This post by Tim Locke of Grace Community Church in Bridgewter NJ so captures the truth of a much needed lesson, I post it here below.
Embracing the Broken Church!
“I don’t feel comfortable inviting people to our church,” he said. “Why not?” I asked. “Our music isn’t upbeat enough, our people don’t sing out and the whole thing falls flat. Our people aren’t friendly. We don’t have a dynamic kid’s program. We aren’t very community-oriented.” He didn’t say all this but he and others have shared these concerns with me and other pastors that I hang with.
More and more people are leaving their small, limited churches to attend large, super-sized, mega-churches. And if they don’t leave, they spend their time comparing their church with others and complaining about what they want but don’t have.
Sometimes a parishioner gets a dash of spirituality and pushes the church to change. Maybe they fight to see the worship changed, maybe get a new minister, maybe a new program. Eventually they’ll probably end up leaving, but at least they can take the spiritual high ground and say things like, “Well I tried to get the church to change but they just weren’t interested.” So they leave after writing “Ichabod” over the door posts of the church (1 Samuel 4.21).
Often the pastor takes the brunt of it. If he’s been on the job for any length of time he might be viewed as part of the problem. Some might say, “He’s part of an older generation. He isn’t open to change. He’s not a visionary. He’s not missional.” These and other accusations are leveled at him directly or gossiped to other members in the church.
Sometimes it’s the recently hired pastor that struggles with dissatisfaction. He comes in with new ideas, new vision, but gets resistance. After failed attempts to initiate new programs or to change the worship, he resents the congregation for hiring him. “They hired me because they wanted change but they wouldn’t even change their name”, he says.
Whether preacher or parishioner, one thing is true—no one wants to be identified with a broken church. Church goers want a pastor and a program that reflects well on them. The pastor wants a church that reflects well on him.
Here’s the problem: first, hiding brokenness denies the Gospel and second, we are creating our identity outside of Christ.
Consider how it denies the Gospel. How would the teaching and practice of Jesus direct us? Jesus loved broken people, spent his time with broken people, discipled twelve less than perfect men, and rebuked the self-righteous hypocrites of His day. His method and his message were consistent, “God embraces broken people and provides the perfect Christ to stand in their place.” So, how do you think Jesus would respond to a broken church? How does His paradigm of redemptive grace inform us as church-goers?
Some churches hide their brokenness. They polish their presentation so that everything is smooth and well choreographed. The worship service goes off like a well rehearsed corporate presentation. The music is engaging without a note misplayed. The preacher is well rehearsed and his sermon timed perfectly for the band in a building across town receiving his simulcast to start playing at just the right time.
These churches might embrace brokenness by sending a group to the mission field, but they don’t expect the congregation to live with human weakness or broken people. The consumer-congregants are thrilled. They’ve been inspired. “I laughed, I cried, you moved me!” They especially enjoyed the “I-pad chorus” put on by the staff. Who wouldn’t want to worship here?
After all, how many of us who grew up in church enjoyed listening to Sister Suzie sing off key before the sermon? Awkward! Maybe we endure the “teen service” and listen to the children’s choir in the name of recognizing our children, but we’d never allow a steady diet of that. In fact, let’s schedule it for a Sunday night or a Wednesday night when the “real” Christians go to church.
But while this church does everything it can to mask its weaknesses, it manifests another devastating form of brokenness, hypocrisy!
One of my greatest lessons was being the assistant pastor in a church of 200 where a retired, disabled minister would often preach. Even though I was prepared, the elders would ask this brother to preach, and during the morning worship no-less. He’d struggle through his sermon, encumbered with the effects of a severe stroke. But I learned a great lesson as the body of Christ embraced his brokenness and lived the Gospel in the community of faith.
If we believe the Gospel, we won’t run from brokenness, or try to cover it up, we’ll live in it. I’m convinced that we shouldn’t try to do everything we can to hide our weakness or to put our best foot forward. That’s a form of hypocrisy that ultimately undermines the message of grace that we preach and alienates the very people we’re trying to reach.
Our practice actually says something like this:
“God loves you and accepts you just as you are! But we know you don’t accept us as we are so we’ll change. We’re going to act like we’re professional so that you’ll like us and listen to us talk about God. We don’t want anyone to have to endure our brokenness, so we’ll become what makes you comfortable. But know that if you join us, you’ll need to adopt our hypocrisy too, so that we can attract more people. If you can’t, then this place probably isn’t for you!”
This brings up the other issue: building an identity outside of Christ. The Gospel teaches us that our identity is in Christ, not the brokenness around or within us. This is a great truth! My identity is not determined by the brokenness around me or within me, but in the person and work of Christ.
I am joined with Christ: His obedience, His righteousness, His repentance, His prayer, His worship. He represents me before the throne. I come to God through Him. That means I can come to God as I am because Jesus Christ covers me with Himself. That means my identity is found in Him, not in my ability or lack of thereof. My identity is in Him, not my circumstances (my cars, my house, my clothes, or my church). Jesus lived this way, being accused of being a drunk and a glutton because he hung out with drunkards and gluttons. His identity was not in whom he was with or what they were doing.
Does that sound like your church? When you walk into the white walls (or darkened hall) with the professional worship team that never misses a queue, is that the message you get? What do you identify with more, the sinner up front sharing his testimony and reading the Scripture, or the hip, cool preacher? Do you identify with the children’s choir singing Jesus loves me or the worship band with the guitar solo? I especially like it when the camera zooms in on the guitarist!
If my identity is in Christ what does that mean for me in church? It means that when the musicians make mistakes in worship, I don’t have to look nervously at my song sheet to avoid eye contact. It means when my friend who I invited to church says, “Why do you attend a church with such lame music?” I can give an answer like this;
“Because the Gospel isn’t just a theory, it’s a practice. God loves and accepts me as a broken sinner. That frees me to love and accept other broken sinners. That’s what we do here at church. I love, accept, and appreciate our musicians, especially when they make mistakes. I connect with their mistakes as a fellow sinner.”
Or maybe when my friend says, “I attended your church and hardly anyone talked to me,” I can give an answer like this,
“I’m truly sorry that you experienced the individualism that is so characteristic of our sinful hearts and our broken world. The church should be different but we aren’t. We’re sinners who God has forgiven, but not sinners that God has fully changed. We accept one another in the way that God accepts us. We do want to be a warmer community, but until we are will you please forgive us?”
Now wouldn’t that be revolutionary? To admit that while we wish it were different, at the end of the day, we’re just sinners loved by God. You know what that would communicate to our friends? If you come here, you’ll be accepted and loved too!
I wonder if that’s why people like mega-churches. We like being identified with success and we enjoy living in the anonymity and hypocrisy. Maybe we can come and go without having to endure brokenness and without having to expose our own? I doubt these are good things!
The Gospel isn’t just a teaching of the church. Patience, forgiveness, selflessness, acceptance, and love aren’t just sermon subjects but the living-out of the Gospel. When we create a church environment where we don’t communicate the practice of the Gospel, we shouldn’t expect growth in the Gospel. When we build our church identity around the success and professionalism of our culture, we shouldn’t expect our congregation to identify with Christ.
So before you leave your small, limited, broken church for that beautiful, shiny church with the hip, cool pastor, consider your motives. Are you really thinking missionally? Do you really want to bring the Gospel to your community? Then maybe you should stay and live the Gospel in your broken church!
AMEN! Thank you Tim Locke!