Thursday, August 15, 2013

No Perfect People Allowed

The church is not for perfect people. The church is a gathering of imperfect people who have put their hope in a perfect Savior, Jesus. We all know in our minds this is true, but we often live differently.

In recent weeks, I have had a number of conversations with members and attenders of The Journey Church, which I pastor, who had not been around lately. In talking with them, I learned that these people had been experiencing various trials and pains in their lives. Some were struggling with areas of sin in their lives. Whether it was the experience of trials or struggles with sin, all the people felt inclined not to come to gather with the church for worship. This concerns me.

The first thing I wanted to know was whether their non-attendance was because they felt uncared for or judged by the church. In all cases the answer was "no." When I probed deeper into why these people felt the need to shy away from gathering with the church, it was a sense of guilt, shame, or lack of desire to be with people that emerged. They simply did not want to face other people. They reiterated that this was not because the church had done anything, but their own sense of guilt.

So what is behind their not coming?

This really got me to thinking about the paradigm that exists in most people's minds about the church. Many people view the church as a place where people have it together. One reason is many of our churches have turned into impersonal gatherings where we attend a service, say a few words to the people around us, and leave. There is very little interaction, so we all put on our happy faces. In this kind of setting, we do not let our guards down. We all put on a smile, look good, keep composed, and give our hour and a half of time.

The problem with this is that it gives the perception to everyone around us that our lives are great. Things are perfect. When this permeates the culture, even when things are not perfect, people will feel the need to fake it. In an environment like this, we send a message that struggles and pain are an inconvenience. When this is happening, people who are struggling with trials or sin, would rather not be in an environment that feels inherently judgmental or critical.

A Second Reason

So we see that one reason people may shy away from coming to church is that they do not feel that people facing problems are welcome to come. The illusion of perfection as a requirement keeps them away. A second reason, which is similar to the first, is many people choose not to gather with the church during seasons of struggle, is they do not want to "fake it." They feel conviction; they feel shame for their sin. Many simply don't feel worthy to come to church.

The reason this problem exists is two-fold. The first reason is that people forget that the church is a place full of imperfect people. If we realized that everyone is jacked up, we would have much more confidence in gathering with the body. The church is the body of Christ, made up of sinners who have been saved by grace. Our whole message as the church is that we are imperfect people serving a perfect Savior. People forget that Christ has forgiven them of their sin. They forget that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). There is no need to self-impose condemnation. If we realized this, we would gather freely with the body, even in the midst of struggles and sin.

The second part of this is that many church worship services are too chipper. What do I mean by this? I mean that many church services are too focused on being peppy and happy and chipper. While I am not against uplifting services, the reality is most people are not always feeling uplifted. If we read the psalms we see quickly that being downcast is normal for even the most God-loving people. Sorrow is a real part of the Christian life. Unfortunately, our services rarely reflect the lament and sorrow that accompany our lives. If our services were more intentional to reflect the different dispositions that many in the church feel, I believe we would have more people continue to gather with the body, even when they were downcast from trials or sin. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: church is not for perfect people. The church is a gathering of imperfect people, who have put their hope in a perfect Savior. If you are having struggles in life, you should gather with the body of Christ. If you are struggling with issues of sin, welcome, so are those gathered around you. Seek the Savior with other believers when the church gathers. Do not create an unreachable standard of perfection that is required before gathering for corporate worship. If you do, you are perpetuating the problem of making church a place for the supposed perfect people.

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