Come Clean, Church

Aside

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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My drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister

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If you are a Christian, is it wrong to eat unhealthy foods?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to be gay?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to drink or smoke?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to laugh at inappropriate jokes?

If you are a Christian, should you watch rated-R films or listen to secular music or read secular books?

If you are a Christian, should you be seen in a bar even if you are not drinking?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong not to attend church every Sunday?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to have more possessions than the poorest person in your community?

If you are a Christian and commit suicide, will you go to hell?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to believe differently than another Christian?

If you were raised in a traditional Christian home, you have probably asked some of these questions. If you have been a Christian in a traditional church for enough time, you have probably asked some of these questions.

I have asked most of these questions. I have been asked most of these questions. My answers have changed dramatically in a 10 year span. Am I now certain about my answers? No. Will I ever be? Probably not.

In the Christian world, we like to put things in 2 categories: wrong and right. This has proven beneficial for many things. For example:

It is wrong to do drugs.
But it is okay to take prescription pain pills as prescribed by a doctor.

Before you call me a heretic, I do believe some things are black and white. One cannot read the Bible and not come to that conclusion. However, there are more things that I wish were black and white.

The Bible is as messy as it is neat. There are moments that God is very clear and then there are other moments that there is uncertainty. There are moments when all of Christendom can unite on a topic and then there are moments that we divide because of different views. I read on Church Relevance that in 2008, there was an estimated 39,000 Christian denominations worldwide. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be 55,000 Christian denominations worldwide. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that there was a new Christian denomination formed every 12 hours.

If it is all black and white, why is a new denomination forming every 12 hours? Within the (my estimate) 40,000 denominations that exist today, there are probably still divisions among what to believe about certain issues. And of course, you have the sneaky non-denominational churches that exist under the “non-denominational” branch but each non-denominational church probably believes something different than the other non-denominational church. Christendom is a mess. And we don’t make it better when we write books called “Doctrine” that dictate what you should and should not believe. Instead, we draw another line. We have made finding Christ the most impossible maze.

Many times I pray that God would come down and straighten us all out so we move forward. But sure enough, someone would say, “I think God meant this and if you disagree with me, I’m going to start a different denomination where I can surround myself with people who agree with me because I am insecure about my beliefs and I cannot take someone disagreeing with me because I might be wrong but I’m not going to admit it because that would show weakness.” Okay…so they might not say all of that…but they would probably say most of it.

One thing is certain: we are one screwed up family. Most of us don’t even speak to one another. Many times I think, “What happens if I am wrong? What happens if I am wrong and God is so just that He damns me to hell? What happens if grace doesn’t exist for my beliefs? What happens if I messed up my whole life because I believed something I shouldn’t have believed?” If you haven’t thought those things, you’re better off. There have been many dark days where I have thought those things.

I hope grace works. I hope that it covers what we get wrong. Even more, I hope that grace covers what we thought we got right. Because if it doesn’t, we’re all screwed. Life would be better if we stopped saying “I’m right.” Life would be better if we stopped saying, “God told me this is the way it should be,” or “from my studies, this is what I think we should believe on this issue.” Because what happens if we are wrong? What happens if the person who believes opposite of us is right? Maybe we are the ones that need to be changed and God is trying to use them to change us? Perhaps we are the Babylonians instead of the Israelites. Stop trying to martyr yourself on something that may not be right.

So what do you say to your drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister? “You may be a crazy uncle, but you’re still family.”