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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

When Church is an Unsafe Place: An Open Invitation to Our Home Church

Churches can too often become a place to hide. We know that something is wrong in our lives. We know that we desperately need something, something real, something worthwhile, purpose, vision, hope, help. We think we may need God. But, we know we don't want people snooping around in our business. We want God not gossip, not pain.

So, we go to church and we hide, hoping that we can find God or God can find us (however that works) in time before our stuff that we want to hide comes out and messes everything up.

The homosexual man hides his feelings because he is afraid that he will be judged and condemned. He assumes that people there would reject him because of the way they talk about homosexuals and homosexuality in their Bible Study groups, sermons, and prayer requests.

The same can be said for the teen girl who dresses in black and wears dark make-up. She hides too. And, the single mom who can't seem to keep her kids quiet during church. And, the parents with 7 kids who are judged for not stopping after 4. Actually, too often, we all feel judged, and it stinks.

There is such a huge gap between what we see in church and what we see in Christ. In church, we see people judging others (and us) and in Scripture we see Christ forgiving and extending grace.

         Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
         “No, Lord,” she said.
          And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

What an amazing picture of God's grace! But, even here, those who prefer judgment will say, "Yeah, but Jesus told her she had to stop sinning. (So-and-so) hasn't left their sin, they are celebrating it."

But for the rest of us, we not only read about Christ's forgiveness, His love, His grace, we feel it.

We feel the peace that is left when His Spirit cleanses us. We feel the relief of being honest, being vulnerable and spiritually naked before God and then having Him cover our nakedness with His grace.

When we see these inconsistencies between our faith community and our relationship with God, we might ask a typical question of faith development, “Who am I apart from being a member of this community?” or "Can I be Christian and not be a part of a church?"

It is crucial for us to ask this type of question as part of our ongoing journey to discover our true identity.

It may sound like I am advocating leaving your church behind and becoming a "solo Christian" (Someone who loves Jesus but hates the church. Someone who says they follow Jesus apart from any faith community). But I am not.

The fear is that we will leave the church, so some discourage this kind of thinking. And, inadvertently, promote hiding. Instead of facing the truth, we learn to hide our doubts, hide our fears, and ignore the Holy Spirit's urging to be honest.

And, there are lots of people hiding in churches.

Don't be one of them! Please. There is so much more.


James Fowler, a groundbreaking author and researcher in the field of faith development, wrote that, "from the beginning of our lives we are faced with the challenge of finding or composing some kind of order, unity and coherence in the force fields of our lives.”[1]

He noticed that we use our imaginations. We make up a satisfying worldview to explain what we see all around us, to make connections and find commonalities.

We experience people and cultures, beliefs and concepts. We also have our own feelings and experiences, relationships and insights. And, the more we take it all in, the more compelled we feel to create a comprehensive image to explain them.

We want to know, "How can I make sense of it all?"

When our belief that we need to be a part of a church clashes with our realization that the church is not always a nice place, we need to use our imaginations to test out some new theories.

The Problem with Church

In our churches and faith communities, we find people who are mean, people with bad tempers, people who worry, people who lie, people who are manipulative, and every other kind of people.

The place to start when faced with sinfulness in the church is with the question I mentioned before, "Can I be a Christian and not be a part of a church?"

When you have taken the time to face your own fear, doubts, and sin, the answer will be "Absolutely!"

But, don't stop there and walk away from the church.

Realizing that we don't need a church in order to be a Christian, we need to ask why God gave us churches, faith communities, in the first place.

What's the use?

Churches were meant to be a community of people (not a building) that cares for one another. Whether you are in a church of 25 or a church of 25,000, if that is not happening, then something is broken.

As Christians, we have a high calling, to make disciples of all nations. We desire to bring the kingdom of God to earth. That is joyful work for sure, but it can be difficult and exhausting.

We need others who share our calling and our love for God. We need to encourage one another and support one another. We need each other.

If you knew your dog needed a bath, would you keep bringing him to groomer who had a beautiful bath tub, wonderful smelling soap, and great prices, but had no water?


So why do you go to a church that has a pretty building, friendly people, comfortable pews, great music, and whatever else makes you feel good about it, but has no love? Without love it is impossible to please God. They will know that we are Christ's followers by our love.

Go to a church that is a community, people who have learned to depend upon one another.

Our solution and your solution

As a family, we have chosen to create a new faith community.

We are pursuing our faith through relationships.

As an individual, I alone am responsible for my actions, my thoughts, my words, and my feelings.

As a member of our faith community, I am fully engaged in the lives of those in my community. I am responsible to love and respect and encourage and pray for and bear the burdens of those in the community.

Our home church is small. It is relational. It is open and welcoming to others. It is just right for us right now.

We invite others to join us in worship, in prayer, in love, in meals and in life. We invite them into our home and there we share life and love and faith with them. We share ourselves and invite them to share as much of themselves as they would like.

We strive to get to know and accept people where they are. That means that we expect the two year old to act like a two year old and the new believer to have questions and the pregnant woman to be uncomfortable and the 11 year old boy to be antsy. And, we expect everyone to show love and to need love.

It is messy because it is filled with real people living their real lives. (Our life together is not marked by smooth musical transitions.)

It is holy.

It is filled with love and acceptance, with grace.

That’s our solution. What’s yours?

As I mentioned in the beginning, your solution could be to be a solo Christian. But that is not a solution, that is more hiding. Instead of hiding in the back pew, it is hiding in your living room.

Dig deeper, find out why you want to hide, and then find a faith community that will love you as you are and walk with you in the next steps of your spiritual journey.

If you are part of a church because you feel like you have no choice, you will keep hiding, hiding your faults, hiding your sins, hiding your doubts, hiding your opinions out of fear that others will discover that you don't really belong.

But, when you have found your identity in Christ, then you will be free to be yourself in your faith community. When you don't have to be in church to be a Christian, you can choose to be in church, fully honest and open able to give and receive love and grace.

Only after you can stop hiding can you receive all that God has for you and give all that you are to those around you. Then you can ask those other, secondary questions:

"Is this the right place for me? Have I found a community where I can be myself, where my participation in the community doesn’t require me to hide who I really am?"

Your Invitation

You are welcome to join our home church. We would love to share our lives with you. Really. I would love for you to experience the hope and peace, love and grace that we share.

But that option may not be desirable to some and doesn’t help those of you who are reading this in Germany.

Don’t settle for anything less than true community centered in Christ, in His love and His grace.

You may discover that you are in the right church already. Or, you may choose to start a new faith community like we did. Or, you may find a different community that you believe will be right for you. Or, maybe you can begin to change the one you are in.

Even when we have been hurt by people in a faith community, now is the time to forgive, to trust again, and be honest. Face your fear and find a group of people who will love and accept you for who you are and walk with you as you travel on in your journey with Christ.

Our personal identity in Christ will be the strength upon which we can build Christian community with others.

True Christian community is life-giving, encouraging, supportive, and challenging to our faith. Don't settle for anything else.

Join a faith community that knows you and won't allow you to act like a Christian without being one.

1 James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995), 24.

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