We’ve lived in a new community for almost 10 months now. I have made one really good friend, whom I very grateful for, but as far as church and feeling a part, I am still struggling. The people at the church we have been visiting are friendly, the teaching is sound and encouraging and the worship is good, but I think what’s really missing is the feeling that others understand.
Our marriage counselor made an interesting statement last week. He said often times when we go to church that we lie, because as we enter the building we take on a religious persona. After hearing about how I was struggling to fit in, he encouraged me to try to attend a Celebrate Recovery, the Christian version of AA, group.
But this left a big question in my mind – what about church? Isn’t it the place where God says not to forsake, so that we can be encouraged by one another? Don’t we need fellowship to grow and thrive? Shouldn’t our churches be a place where we can be vulnerable with one another and connect? If we are honest with ourselves don’t we all struggle with sin?
I was listening to a sermon this morning by Zach Van Dyke. Zach is one of those rare pastors who is brave enough to be vulnerable with those he is teaching, and though he doesn’t tell all, he tells enough to let his listeners know that he struggles just like they do. He never comes across as perfect, but he does come across as humble. I think Zach is definitely on to something.
In his most recent sermon, he talks about the Ashley Madison exposure. He said that so far almost 400 pastors are talking about resigning due to being exposed by the hack. This made my heart sink. Why is there so much pressure in the church not to fail? Why can’t we be honest? Why can’t we work through struggles together? Why do we have to come to church, put on a religious face and pretend? What if some of these pastors repented and were allowed to get counseling without immediately losing their position? It seems to me the pressure that we put one another under to perform perfectly isn’t effective. I know for me, this pressure only caused me to hide my sin and as a result it just grew more.
Every time I’ve read about another big name exposure by this hack my heart has sunk. I think about the pain my confession caused my family and others in the church, and I can relate on some level what these families are going through.
I love what Steve Brown says in his most recent letter.
The statement that should be heard in the church more than any other isn’t “How could you?” or “Bless you.” It’s “You too!” AA is right. It takes a drunk to help a drunk and, just so, it takes a sinner to help a sinner.
Steve is another rare personality in ministry who is vulnerable. Anyone who listens to Steve has no question that he struggles with sin. Every broadcast is opened with “Forgive the one who teaches for his sins, for they are many, that we may see Jesus and Him only.”
Whenever I listen to Steve, I am comforted, because I get the sense that Steve struggles just like I do, and there’s absolutely no pressure to be better than I am. Over the years in the midst of struggling with sin, I could listen to him without feeling condemned, and almost every time I heard him I longed for a person in my church like Steve who wouldn’t be shocked by my sin. I honestly believe if there’d been someone there like him that I would have confessed a lot sooner.
And that’s my whole point, the sooner we can confess, the sooner we can be free and the less damage that can be done.
A recent article in Christianity Today revealed that RC Sproul JR had visited the Ashley Madison site “in a moment of weakness” but had not actually used the account. He was asked to resign for a year over this. It seems that Christian circles are making it very clear that no sexual sin, even temptation that was overcome, will be tolerated. This standard of perfection does not seem realistic at all. If our leaders cannot be free to confess their own struggles with sin, then how in the world can they lead the rest of us?
I don’t know the answer to this, but I do know that something needs to change.
I’ll never forget the day I found the courage to confess to my new pastor the sin I’d struggled so long with. He listened and understood, and it felt like the weight of the world was taken off of my shoulders. This pastor had shared his own struggles from the pulpit and with me. Because of his own vulnerability, I felt safe to share. But then when he realized the former pastor was involved in this sin and other leaders became involved, the pressure to protect the reputation of the church resulted in me having my confession told to the church, losing my job and the former pastor being immediately deposed.
Today, as a result, it is almost impossible for me to trust anyone in the church. The very place where James advises we should go and confess so we can be healed seems to be a very dangerous place, and with every Ashley Madison hack or pastor that falls from grace and is immediately removed, it just continues to become more unsafe.
I’m not saying we should just let sin go and that there should be no consequences. Certainly, that’s not realistic. God hates sin, because it brings us painful circumstances. He took desperate measures to save us from sin by sending Jesus to die, so clearly we shouldn’t take it lightly.
But what I am saying is that we in the church need to take a long hard look inside ourselves and pray and ask God to reveal our sins to us and find the courage to just be honest with ourselves and with God and think before we point a finger or cast a stone. We could ask God to give us the courage to share from a genuine heart with others and give them permission to share their own struggles. We could take some of the pressure off of our pastor by letting him know it’s ok if he isn’t perfect, that Jesus is the only one who meets that standard.
Maybe we could make our churches a safe place for sinners if we set a standard of humility, rather than one of perfection.