So the other night I was reading the book Who Stole My Church and I came across a section that I wish I had for my sermon last Sunday. In this book there are a group of Christians meeting together to because they feel their church is being stolen out from underneath them. They miss the hymns. They wonder why they need more audio-visual equipment. They wander why they can't have a choir any more...etc. Essentially they had cleaned up the church and separated it from the real world. The result had filtered into their lives. They put on a show on Sunday morning to honor God but were not honoring him at all because they were not real with him and each other. It was all a facade.
Anyway, an outsider comes into the church. Ben, he has long hair, a tattoo, struggled with substance abuse...etc. One of the members of the little group, Ernie, makes some nasty comments about that Sunday's visitor only to find the person was a relative of another member of this group, Connie. God had dealt with her to take in this individual and help him. She had invited him to her church. To make a long story short this lady begins to share the things going on in her life and the life of her extended family. This opens the door for the whole group to get honest and real with each other.
The pastor of this fictitious church comments about the evening:
"What in the world is happening here? I asked myself. It was as if we were at a costume party where, at the stroke of midnight, everyone had to remove their disguises. People were exposing their broken hearts sharing the darker parts of their own private stories for the first time. Faces usually smiling and projecting confidence were now marked with deep pain and struggle. Burdens of worry, grief, confusion, and regret, never before mentioned, where being placed, as it were, right on the table.Later in the story Ernie--the one that made the negative comments about Ben--takes Ben to a ballgame. There Ernie opens up about the things in his life --some of the same things Ben has been struggling with. Ben, who had no use for Christians and Christianity in the past, is now open to God's story thru Ben's story.
"No one in the room was more shaken at these disclosures than I was. I'd been preaching to these people week after week and didn't have the slightest idea that some of these things were going on in their hearts. What in the world is church life about, I asked myself, if stories like these remain hidden in the hearts of the people you thought you knew well."
I believe this is perfect example of why it is important for us as a church to open up with each other and share our stories. We need to hear how each of us is struggling to live God's story in our world and how we are being successful at it. The world wants to know we are real. They want to know that God's story connects with them right where they are. I want our church to be a place where it is safe for real, fallen people to come and learn God's story and see how God's story makes sense out of their world. I want us to be a people that can be open and real with each other and those who don't know God's story.
Here are a couple of questions:
1. What are some of the "church" things we do that may make an outsider like Ben feel like church is fake and doesn't connect with the real world?
2. What keeps you from opening up with other Christians
3. What would help you open up with other Christians?
4. What keeps you from sharing Christ's story with those who have misunderstood God because they don't have a relationship with God or other Christians have misrepresented God because their relationship with God isn't what it should be?
5. What can we do as a church to make it a place where people feel comfortable learning about God's story? What attitudes need to be adjusted if any?
6. Do you feel our church is a safe place to bring a friend who wants to learn God's story? Why or Why not?