I grew up going to church since I was a kid. The church my family and I attended was conservative and maybe even a little legalistic at times. I can remember being chastised for playing “Go Fish” and “War” with a deck of playing cards (because cards are used in gambling was the excuse I was given). We were allowed to play “Dutch Blitz” because they were different kinds of cards. Similar “policies” were made about movies, dress code and music. But the church and its congregation loved Jesus, loved the Bible and for the most part I really enjoyed church as a kid. As I hear other people’s horror stories about church, I think I did pretty well. But that’s not what this post is about. I want to talk about “church people”. I wonder sometimes if the kind and style of the church either attracts or creates the kind of Christians that come out of it. Again, I’m not specifically talking about my church or any church in particular but it seems depending on what church you attend determines what kind of “church person” you become. But there are some generalities about relationships with most church people that are bothersome.
Here’s the bottom line, it’s hard to be real with most church people I know. Allow me to begin by believing the best about everyone. I think we are all taught about the love of Jesus and tend to view Him as gentle and kind. So when we relate with each other, everyone is afraid to say something that could be construed as mean or hurtful. So sin goes unchecked and the surface is where we like to live. Secondly, when you’re around church people, I honestly believe we all want to be godly, holy and on the right track. So what happens when we’re not? Unfortunately, I feel most of us tend to hide or pretend because, “what would people think if they really knew? What would people say to me if they knew I wasn’t where I should be?” It’s kind of ironic, because we are all trying to be so “nice” that we probably wouldn’t say anything, at least to your face. So round and round the cycle goes, people pretending to be something they’re not and very few speaking intentionally into each other’s lives.
This is why I haven’t always enjoyed hanging out with church people. And now as a pastor, here’s my biggest concern about this phenomena: transformation, or better said, the lack of. If we aren’t real, regardless of the reasons or justifications it’s nearly impossible to grow and change and become more like Jesus. If I’m pretending to be someone I’m not, I begin to believe I’m actually that person, but I’m not. Plus what are my “issues” that need to be addressed? Well I can create whatever “issues” I want because I’m pretending, and they likely won’t be the real issues. And if no one is really calling me on my stuff (because they want to be nice) then I’m never really confronted and I don’t have to look at the darker sides of me.
What if there was a better way? Let me warn you, at the beginning, it may just be you because it’s really hard for people who’ve been living this way to feel free to let the guard down. You’ll need to go first, realizing that some may look at you and others may talk about you. But before long you’ll find someone, often many someone’s who are inspired by your honesty, your authenticity. You will begin to create community, places (that are becoming more and more rare in our culture at large) where people can be themselves, are loved for who they are and are believed in for who they could be. We often say around Grace Church, “come as you are, but don’t stay that way.” I love both sides of that statement and if you fall over too much on one side or the other, you’ll get in trouble. But think about what it might be like to be in a group of Christians who don’t judge you and welcome you wherever you’re at, even at your worst. And that same group loves you enough to not let you stay where you are, but speaks and walks with you towards God’s goal and design. And if more and more of us could begin creating places like that, then might we hear: “church people are real, honest and love you enough to help you grow”. What if that was our reputation? Now that’s a church I’d want to be a part of!!