Ed Welch’s latest blog post on the CCEF website struck a chord with some of my recent thinking. It’s entitled ‘Do you feel like a failure?’
I touched on a similar theme in the Senior Minister’s letter at our annual church review. It’s less elegantly put, of course, but here’s what I wrote,
Let’s be honest for a moment. We’d all prefer to be sorted, wouldn’t we?
I’d like my life to be more sorted than it is. I’d like to be a more sorted individual than I am. I’d like to be a more sorted Christian than I am. And I’m going to assume that you’re not that different. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a good and healthy desire. I’m aware that not being sorted has negative implications for me, for others and also for my relationship with God. Undoubtedly life would be better if I was more sorted. But I’d also quite like to be known as being sorted. And that’s significantly less healthy. It has to do with creating a perception. It’s about cultivating and enhancing a reputation amongst others. It’s fundamentally self-centred. And Jesus is meant to be the hero of my Christian life!
But if I want to be well thought of amongst others then I may be reluctant to admit that I’m far from sorted. And I might be resistant to any suggestion that there are ways in which I’m not sorted. I’ll probably react quite strongly to the loving correction of friends who recommend that repentance may be the way forward. But this inability or unwillingness to admit our failures and our frailty creates a corrosive influence in a church. Church becomes a place where we pretend. We pretend that we’re sorted. Of course, we have to pretend that we’re sorted because we’re not. But we won’t admit it. And so people don’t get the real us. They get an elaborate hoax. And so real relationships can’t happen. And if everyone else seems sorted then new people feel that they have to be sorted in order to belong. And so they have to pretend (or they look elsewhere because they can’t keep up the pretence). And if we maintain the myth that only sorted middle class families with sorted kids or sorted young professional people with sorted lives are welcome at CCB then the whole thing becomes self-perpetuating. And that’s disastrous. It means we can’t really be church.
In his book ‘Life Together, Prayerbook of the Bible’, the German theologian Dietrich Boenhoffer wrote,
It is possible that Christians may remain lonely in spite of daily worship together, prayer together, and all their community through service – that the final breakthrough to community does not occur precisely because they enjoy community with one another as pious believers, but not with one another as those lacking piety, as sinners. For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners.
The question that has increasingly occupied my mind in the second half of this year has been this; ‘is CCB a place where we feel able to be open about our frailty and our failures?’ I’m not at all convinced that it is. That we are. And that’s not great. And I’d love us to prayerfully work to change that. Of course, we don’t want to condone sin and say that it doesn’t matter. It does. It’s wicked. And God wants us to repent of it. Unrepentant sinners need always to be gently and lovingly challenged about their sin. We care for people too much to let them wreck their lives as they’re ravaged by sin. So we want to be a church in which sinners (like us) can be honest about our sinful failures so that we can receive the help that we so desperately need. We want repentant sinners to be comforted with the gospel. But to do that we need to admit our sin; generally to everyone and specifically to some (we don’t need to tell everyone everything). We want CCB to be a place where sinners can come and find help to repent of their sins, find reassurance in the gospel, find encouragement for the fight and find accountability in the struggles.
So what does this mean in practice? How about putting some of these into practice.
Be prepared to reveal a little more about your struggles than you have previously.
Allude to some of your failures.
Let people find out a little more about what goes on behind the front door of your family home.
Put some flesh on the bones of your prayer requests in small group.
Be absolutely straight with your spouse.
Don’t hide what needs to be said to your prayer triplet.
Be honest about your failures.
Be humble and admit to your frailty.
Let people know that you’re not what you seem; that people don’t know the half of how bad and useless you are.
In short, be authentic.
We’re not sorted. We’re miles from being sorted. And we don’t want to be a church full of people who pretend that we are. We’re not. Jesus died because we’re not sorted and never could be this side of heaven. So let’s not pretend. Jesus thinks that we’re sinners. And it’s never a good idea to be on the opposite side to Jesus in an argument.
With love from one struggling sinner to others