A young man I greatly admire wrote this week about his desire to see Christians being more real with each other. He is working with a youth team, teaching leadership principles. He challenged them this week to be more honest, more open, more transparent. It’s a noble challenge, a great one for people who have soaked up a more typical church culture.
It has me thinking about our church. It could be the imagination of a pastor who thinks her people are just the best but I would have to say that if there’s one thing we’ve done right, it is that we’ve encouraged this faith community to be brutally honest with each other. We’ve made the testimony a cornerstone of our worship experience and we’ve heard just about every possible story. Guys who pulled guns on their wives. Moms who endured the incarceration of children. Every conceivable addiction, including porn. Somehow, we’ve managed to create an atmosphere where you can say just about anything and even get applause for it. We don’t do this for shock value; it has been God’s call on us to model vulnerability. We see our stories as good and God-honoring gifts.
We’ve learned a few things on this road to transparency. Primarily we have learned that it comes with a cost. For starters, it is a great way to downsize a church. People don’t naturally know how to hold grace and truth together in the same hand. When folks get honest about their lives, some head for the door. It isn’t the kind of “church” they signed up for. Often, we hear comments like, “We love what you’re doing at your church. We don’t need it, but we love what you’re doing.” As if only some people need truth and grace.
We’ve also learned that by speaking openly about our addictions and habits, we’ve opened doors for people to come to us and become accountable for getting healed. We’ve discovered that you can’t just tell your story and sit down. Every admission is really an investment in the life of someone who will come forward when they discover they are not alone.
Like I said, you have to count the cost.
And although real transparency is not cheap, I don’t think I could go back to “church as usual” now that I’ve experienced this way of doing life together. The love our folks have for each other is rich and the healing we’ve witnessed is real. There is a lot of love and grace in an atmosphere committed to being non-judgmental. We haven’t thrown our theology out the window, but we have learned to embrace the stories as gifts and to use them as instruments of grace.
It is what Jesus said in John, chapter 3. Anything that comes into the light belongs to him. Knowing that, why would we want to leave anything in the dark?
Maybe this thing we’ve found that costs but counts … maybe this is what that guy found in that field. I’m thinking about the one Jesus told about the guy who found a treasure, then went and sold everything he had so he could go back and buy not just the treasure but the whole field. Maybe he discovered exactly what we’ve discovered: that a community possessing the treasure of transparency is worth everything we’ve got.