Do We Want An Honest Church? (Part 1)

coffee_1.jpg"Do we want an honest church?"  I suppose the immediate answer is "Yes."  But what would that mean?  Would it mean we have to deal with realities we would rather avoid? 

 

Sometimes, I think our view of church is much like the child who sees Christmas only as a wonderful time of the year.  For a child, Christmas is often a wonderland with special music, decoration, and gifts.  Then this young child grows up, enters his twenties, and begins to realize Christmas sometimes is very stressful for families.  While he was playing with his toys as a child, his parents or other relatives may have been navigating the waters of difficult relationships.   Many of us grow up with a similar romantic view of the church.  We may have grown up in a church where most everything seemed wonderful.   Now, we may realize that some waters are tough to navigate.

What is the church?  In essence it is the embodiment of the life of Jesus in a group of people.  The church is the group of people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as he works to transform these people into the image of Christ, for the glory of God.  The church is not just an idea, but a people who depend upon the dynamic of God, his Spirit, to change their lives.  So the church is basically a group of people living out the gospel.  So today we are learning, even as we are being transformed, what it means to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

 
OK, this is what I am thinking about.  (I’ll admit, I am thinking about this one a lot right now.)  What is the place of honesty in all of this?  Are churches generally known for their honesty?  I am not just talking about what we "preach" on Sunday AM.  I am talking about what we communicate in classes, in our ministries, and in our relationships within the body of Christ.

  • Are we known for being honest about God?  Is our church a place where we can ask honest questions about God or the Bible?  And, where do you go with your questions if you can’t take them to someone within the church?
  • Are we known for being honest about life?  That things happen that we don’t understand?  Are we a people who attempt to be honest about sex, death, money, etc.?
  • Are we known for being honest about the church?  Are we candid and forthright with people or do we forever put a positive spin on things?  Do we name the big elephants (problems that are obvious to everyone but for some reason we refuse to deal with) among us?

I am interested in hearing your comments on this one.  It just seems to me that if we would put more confidence in God and trust that he is continuing to transform this body of believers, we would be less nervous in our churches.  We would be more concerned about telling the truth than in maintaining our silence.

 

I think a lot of people want to be a part of a church family where people are real.  Where there is some degree of authenticity.  Authenticity, however, is best fostered in an atmosphere where we move away from pretense, falsehood, and a preoccupation with appearances and move toward Jesus.  Authenticity is best cultivated in an atmosphere where we speak and live truth.

 

I am interested in hearing what you think about this.  What is most important in cultivating such an atmosphere? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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24 thoughts on “Do We Want An Honest Church? (Part 1)

  1. Great questions on authenticity. The price is high – to be honest with one another demands that we first be present with ourselves to see the falsehood that has been carried around since our childhood. Being honest with ourselves is a frightening prospect that many do not or cannot accomplish.

    Facing the false self and then carrying that burden and trading it for the yoke of Jesus seems to be the next needed step. Being fully present and naked (honest) before God is required in my mind… before we can be genuine before others.

    Present and honest to self.
    Present and honest before God…

    then we can be honest and authentic before one another.

    In one Peace.

  2. First time to respond and I have to say, love the blog!
    Someone once said that any "church problem"  was a leadership problem. I take that to mean that leadership must own it and be a model for any change that needs to take place. (easy said, harder done)
    Blessings -Keithm

  3. Jim,
    You have identified what I believe to be the most important issue facing the local church today. Why is that every member of our congregations seem to be in perfect spirits with no stress on Sunday mornings? Is it because we have been taught to put on our Sunday smile and show that Christians are always happy? Is it because we are taught that once you let Jesus take control of your life that any problems are a result of disobedience and we don’t want to admit to such in our own lives?
    I long for the church that admits and accepts imperfect Christians without judgment. And maybe more important would be imperfect Christians who were not afraid of being judged by the Pharisees in our lives. If you have not heard it, you need to listen to "Stained Glass Masquerade" by Casting Crowns. It talks about how we feel the pressure to hide our flaws when we are around other believers. What a shame.

  4. Since I can’t improve on Doug’s response, I’ll use another word. Honesty requires vulnerability … something we love to see in others and seldom risk on our own.We’ve had more than a few people decide to stay and worship with us because we encourage vulnerability. One Mother’s Day our youth minister’s wife gave the lesson, sharing her testimony of growing up the daughter of a prostitute and the pain of her own abortions. It is not uncommon for a communion devotional speaker to share his drug addiction in the past. It is costly and people have left in disgust. But for those who stay, it is beautiful as we see living demonstrations of God’s grace. 

  5. Doug,A very good and important comment.  You are so right and I like the way you said it. This begins with honest before God and facing the false self.Thanks Doug–This was helpful.

  6. Keithm,Thanks for your encouraging words regarding the blog.  Thanks also for making a "first" comment. (I hope you do this again).You make a good point about leadership modeling this kind of honesty.  Is there anything particular that leadership might do with this which would bless a church? 

  7. Keith (Reid)–So good to see one of your comments again!  Wow–you are on to something really important.  Our expectations of one another now that we are Christians.  I think some of us really believe that if "this Jesus thing is working" we must have a smile most if not all of the time.  Everything must always be "ok" or even "great!"I wonder if some of these expectations are not due to our faulty view of grace/sin.  While we articulate a strong view of God’s grace, we often do a lot of posturing to assure one another that we are performing life well.Anyway, thanks for some helpful remarks.  

  8. Greg,I was particularly struck by one line in your remarks.  You spoke of honesty/vulnerability and then said, "something we love to see in others and seldom risk on their own."   You are so right.Sometimes I think we like this as an "idea" but not in terms of my own way of living.

  9. I wonder how you can tell when you are really authentic (genuine)?  I sometimes think something is missing  and that I am not entirely honest and engaged but it seems being authentic would require a "breaking down" of a shell that I’m not sure how to let go of but I want to learn. 

  10. I think a big part of the problem is that we don’t spend enough time together to really get to know each other.  I spend 8 hours and day, 5 days a week with my coworkers, and I know them well.  I am more likely to share what is giong on in my life with one of them because we work together, often eat together, laugh together, and sometimes cry together.  It’s a natural occurrence due to being in close contact with them on a daily basis and working toward a common goal.  If church was like that, honesty and authenticity would also be a natural occurrence, it seems to me.  (I’m just speaking of what seems to happen at my church, but I suspect that is often what happens other places as well.)

  11. Jim,I look at what we know about the New Testament Church. They were pretty stinking open with one another. And this openness came from having a greater sense of community than many churches now have. Twice in the first four chapters of Acts, Luke goes out of his way to talk about how close this community was. In 2:42-27, we see that the believers in the Jerusalem church "were together and had everything in common." They took care of each other’s needs. They fellowshipped together daily. In chapter 4 we see almost identical language. Vs. 32 says they were one in heart and mind. Vs. 34 says there literally were no needy people. I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that if people were unified in heart and mind, and people were gladly giving of their own possessions to take care of the needs of others, that this was a group that was authentic with one another. (In fact , many commentators suggest this is why God treated Ananias and Sapphira so harshly . . in order to protect the spirit of integrity that had been fostered within the church.)We will never be honest with another unless we feel that our honesty will be received with a spirit of respect and compassion. An atmosphere of respect and compassion can only be fostered in the context of a selfless community of believers focused on Christ first, others second, self last. The problem is not necessarily the congregation as much as it is the individuals who make up the congregation.

  12. I agree with Keith M. Leadership that is closed doesn’t promote openness. Yet, as Connie L. notes, openness doesn’t necessarily breed openness if we aren’t spending time with one another.

    In my church, we have an elder assigned to each family. My elder recently set a monthly meal-together time. He and his wife open their home for games and food, just to their “elder families”. The menu is always the same, to make things easy. It’s been a great way to get to know a small group of people, without pressure to be “spiritual.” And it is breeding openness.

  13. Roy is fond of saying we can’t give away what we don’t have. We must learn, wrestle with, struggle in trying to see what it looks like for us as individuals to live ‘naked’.

  14. No, Jim, I don’t think we’re honest about any of the things you mentioned (generally speaking).  We tend not to know ourselves, and therefore cannot know others, and as long as we continue to hide God will be difficult to find.  Much of what I know about myself is learned from others, by the way they are with ME, by the way the look at ME and react to ME.  But if what I show people is all smoke and mirros, then the reflection I see in their eyes is all smoke and carefully angled mirros.  Before long I’m all distorted like the image in a funhouse mirror.  I can know myself only when I learn to be still in the presence of God.  When I’m known by Him, my need for the fig leaf diminishes, He’s more present and I’m more real.  I start to see myself in the eyes of my neighbor, and as I become more my true self, I’m better able to reflect a true image to my neighbor who just so happens to be in the same boat.  Honesty begins with a gut check in the presence of our Creator.
    Ben

  15. L.L.Thanks for the reminder of the power of community and the powerful simplicity of gathering around a table together for a meal.I like what your elder does!

  16. Gail,Good question.  Not sure I know.  It does seem that there is less self-consciousness when there is more real authenticity and community.

  17. Ben, You do a great job of describing the whole self-image thing.  I like your comment regarding being known by God and the fig-leaf being unnecessary at that point.  "He is more present and I’m more real."Great!  Thanks.

  18. This is my first post, but I have  been reading your blog for the past few months. I have enjoyed them, and come to look forward to your posts. 
    This is where we are in relation to honesty. Our group has begun to talk about what it would take for us to open up and ask for help, to be honest about our faults and needs. A "safe place" is one requirement. In the past it seems as people have only admitted to faults when it became public knowledge. We want to change that and I think being honest is a necessary step.

  19. Good dialogue you’ve created here.  I think too many of us come to church wearing what a friend of mine calls the "happy Jesus face."  I wore one this past Sunday as a matter of fact.  I wish we could be as real with each other on Sunday as we are, for example, with our work colleagues on Monday.  Something about being "in church" or "with church people" somehow tells us to act like everything is great.  Maybe I feel pressured to act this way because I am a person of influence and feel that so many are looking up to me??  

  20. I have been visiting an Anglican church lately.  I come from a Presbyterian raised, then Pentecostal, background.  My husband was Catholic raised, then later Pentecostal also.  We are looking for acceptance and a warm welcome from ‘real’ people.  We want to be unconditionally loved by our brothers and sisters in Christ and we want to return that unconditional love to others.  Yet at the same time, we want to be held accountable for the way we live our lives and help others to be accountable for their lives.  I agree with the comments on community.  We have just left a large church body….at least 4000.  I had inquired about getting involved in a small women’s group and they told me they only offered a large women’s Bible study…about 100 women.  I need to be personally involved with women on an informal level as well as praying together and reading the Bible together regularly.  It is very sad that the large church we left does not understand the great value in that!  I know there are large church groups who do, in fact, have smaller intimate groups that meet during the week.  We are finding the local community bonding with this smaller church to be quite refreshing even though it is not at all in the ‘church style’ we are used to.  Perhaps the gospel is more about one on one and we definitely feel the love from this humble honest small church.