Come Clean, Church

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I go back and forth with Bill Hybels. Sometimes I really like him and am completely engaged in everything he says. And at other times, not so much. However, I think the reason I have so much respect for him is because of his honesty.

Back in 2007-2008, Willow admitted to making some mistakes along the way. They discussed several strategies that they were going to implement to help them become the church they felt God wanted them to be. I remember hearing this and being shocked. Willow admitted to that?! Bill Hybels admitted to that?! But from that shock, came respect.

There is a fear within the church of admitting mistakes. I’m not talking about personal mistakes (although, there is a fear in that as well), but church leadership mistakes. The funny thing about this, though, is that we are taught all throughout life that admitting mistakes shows courage and makes you a bigger person…but not when it comes to the church. We fear that if the church admitted they took a wrong stance, made a wrong decision, implemented a bad practice, etc., then people would have less respect for her. Instead of admitting mistakes, we say something along the lines of, “God is leading us a different direction.” We immediately shift over the blame to God (which is why we need to be careful when we say things like, “God is leading me to do this…” – don’t associate God with how you are feeling and don’t tie His name to everything you feel “led” to do).

The church has made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes in the future. It is inevitable. The church is run by fallible people, who, granted, are trying to do their best with what they have. Many of these people have the purest intentions, but they will still make mistakes. What we need to do as a church, is admit those mistakes.

In “Blue Like Jazz,” Donald Miller writes a powerful chapter on confession. If you haven’t read the chapter, click on the link. It’s a powerful chapter because of what takes place. Instead of students confessing their sins to the Christians on campus, the Christians confess their sins and the sins of the church. It’s a beautiful chapter. And it is exactly what we need to be doing.

I have a feeling that many churches have this idea that they will fail if they admit to mistakes they are making. But people would rather go to a place that admitted mistakes than to a place that seemed too perfect.

It’s time for the church to stop covering things up.

It’s time for us to begin admitting when we are wrong.

It’s time for us to be open about errors.

It’s time for us to embrace the messiness of humans, including the leaders in the church.

This is the kind of church the world needs. It doesn’t need a church that refuses to admit error. How do we expect people in the church to admit when they are wrong when the church can’t? What would it look like if the church said:

We don’t feed the homeless as much as we should.

We spend way too much money on new carpet and not enough money on the community.

We were judgmental.

We’ve never taken care of the widows and orphans.

We have only supported missions within our denominational branch, and we have to stop doing that.

We have taken a wrong stance on a doctrinal issue.

We spend far too much money on marketing and not enough money on things that really matter.

The list can go on and on. It is filled with things that I think many of us would like to see the church admit. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if it did? It would seem like a place where I could admit my errors and not feel judged for it. It would seem like a place where forgiveness really was offered.

The church is filled and led by fallible humans. It’s time we embraced that and admitted our errors.

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In a Pit of Unanswered Prayers

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Writing a blog on prayer is tricky. Before I begin, I want it to be clear that I am a firm believer in prayer. I also want you (as a reader) to know that I raise questions solely for the purpose of opening up discussion about things we have always assumed to be true.

When one looks at prayer, it is quite ridiculous. You are speaking to someone you cannot see. You are requesting something from someone you cannot touch. It is like you are having a conversation with an imaginary friend and everyone around you thinks you have gone crazy. So when you are trying to defend prayer, remember those things.

We praise God when he answers prayers and we curse him when he does not. Non-Christians assume answered prayers are just due to the normal cause and effect of the world and unanswered prayers are further evidence that God does not hear prayers.

If we take the Bible at face value, we should be able to pray and heal people. We should be able to pray and cause miracles. We should be able to pray and accomplish anything to which we set our minds. But there is one small problem: most of the time we see nothing but unanswered prayers and a few answered prayers.

I’ve had people tell me that. I’ve had people tell me that I can accomplish anything with prayer. I’ve gone to conferences where they preach “Prayer is powerful.” I’ve been there. But I’ve also been trapped in a pit of unanswered prayers. I’ve been trapped in that place where I can’t figure out why God answers some prayers and not others. And not only has it made me feel like less of a Christian, it has also made me feel like less of a person.

It is hard to carry on a facade of faithfulness in a pit of unanswered prayers. People ask how we are doing and we say, “Fine. I just gotta keep praying.” In reality, we want to say, “I’m tired of God not answering my prayers.”

Some are quick to argue that God does answer all the prayers, just not the way we would expect it. That is a fine explanation to give to a mother who prayed unceasingly when her child was rushed to the hospital after what turned out to be a fatal car accident. What do you say to that mother? God needed him? The mother needed him. It was God’s will? God’s will is destroying that mother’s faith. What do we say to the unanswered prayers? Perhaps it is better to say nothing. Because when God doesn’t answer prayers, we don’t know what to say, either.

I am disturbed by how comfortable we have become with the cliche answers we give to the question of, “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

In God’s time…

His will, not ours…

Maybe He did answer it, just not in the way you thought He would…

Just keep praying harder…

How do these help? These offer no comfort, no satisfaction, and no encouragement.

We have read countless books on prayer. There are even books on prayers to pray so that God answers your prayers. I find this a little absurd. “No wonder my prayers haven’t been answered! I’ve been forgetting to say, ‘In Jesus’ name!'” I wish it were that easy. I wish there was a formula that would always lead to answered prayers. Unfortunately, I have not found that yet.

What I want to say to you is this: You are not less of a believer if you doubt why God hasn’t answered your prayers. You are not less of a believer if you are angry at God for not answering your prayers. You are not less of a believer if you find yourself in a pit of unanswered prayers.

However, knock down the facade of faithfulness when you are really wanting to curse God for the answered prayers. Seek out your community to pray for you and with you. Will God answer then? I do not know. I wish I did.

When you are in your pit of unanswered prayers, just keep forging through it. There is not much else we can do. It is far better to trust in the maker and sustainer of all things than in ourselves. So continue. If you’re like me, you don’t have much faith that your prayers will be answered. However, keep praying. Keep hoping. Maybe you’ll get out of that pit of unanswered prayers.