Yesterday morning at my faith community, I witnessed stunning honesty from a number of different people, and this honesty wasn’t just shared with me privately, it was shared in front of a bunch of other church people. As a pastor I’ve heard so many people who have no experience of church, and even people with a lot of church experience, tell me that they avoid church because everyone is phony, and because church isn’t a place that’s safe to be as honest and real as you can be in your local bar. Most people would feel safer to be authentically themselves in a bar then they ever would be in a church. In reality they are absolutely right in their critique – most of the time.
I’m not saying my church is perfect. Our church is not anywhere close to perfect, and my presence in the community is one of the main reasons it is not. But I can say that God has done, and is doing, something stunning in our community because people are real, and they are real even in front of everyone else. During our worship gathering I got to hear some of our Jr. High kids share their struggles with God and with a poor self-image. I also got to hear some of our adults share quite honestly about sexual intimacy. We finished up a marriage class, taught by the amazing Brian and Judy Person, and they did this exercise for the 30 of us in the class they called “the fish bowl.” They put all the women in front of all the men to honestly discuss the women’s perspective on issues of marital sexual intimacy so that the men could just listen and hear their perspective. I honestly didn’t think it would work, but it did and the things that were said were so honest and so beautiful. Then they asked the men to do the same thing. I really didn’t think this would work for the men. Really? Will men talk at all, let alone talk about something as vulnerable as sexual needs? But the men also opened up and shared things that were both honest and beautiful as the women listened.
It’s sad to me that we’ve convinced people to look for bodies, buildings and bucks as the metric of church vitality and health. When we think of these things as the main evidence of life and health then we overlook something as stunning and important as finding a church where it’s safe to be authentically who you are, as you are, making your way with Christ toward becoming who you will be.