Rob Bell tells a story in his new book about how when he first became a pastor, a member of his church came up to him after a service said to him ‘If you want to see real church, go to an AA meeting’. So he went, and when it came to his turn, just said ‘pass’.
He said after a while he began to realise something.
It was a “bullshit free zone” (his phrasing).
No hiding. No being polite in front of people. No disguising your weaknesses. No protecting yourself.
Just owning who you really are. Being vulnerable. Making yourself naked before others. Admitting your dark side. No hiding.
As I began to reflect on this I realised this would be a great model for church.
We’ve all experienced or heard about churches where secrets are kept. Where people hide their weaknesses. Where fear of being exposed governs behaviour. It happens all too often in the modern church.
But this isn’t church. It’s a hiding place. It’s not a home of real transformation.
Imagine a church where no one hid anything for the sake of appearances. Where there was no disguising your weaknesses in case someone found out. A space where no one fears full disclosure. Where we can all be stripped bare without any fear.
My church is quite good in this respect. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable, and our pastor is open about his own struggles. Everyone is accepted just as they are, no matter how broken.
But no matter how great your church, there is always a temptation to hide weaknesses, isn’t there?
I find it difficult to discuss my most shameful habits with most people from my church.And if I feel this way, I’m pretty sure there are others who feel the same.
Imagine, a group where you had no choice but to confront yourself completely. To bare yourself naked in front of everyone. To shine a light on your dark side publicly.
But furthermore, imagine a community where you could do this without fear.
No fear of exposing your dark side. No fear of any consequences. A space which was so full of love, grace, forgiveness and trust no one was ever afraid to share absolutely anything.
A place where someone knew no matter what they shared, they would be unconditionally loved and accepted. Where the past would not be held against them by others – but the community would instead focus on helping them deal with this darkness.
Overcoming an addiction.
Coping with a broken marriage or relationship.
Admitting they feel suicidal.
Confessing to betraying someone in the group, or taking advantage of them.
A community like this – with love which casts out fear, grace which accepts us as we are but compels us to change, a “bulllshit-free” atmosphere which allows people to bare their souls without shame – this, I believe, is precisely what Jesus meant by church.
If I ever did plant a church, or lead a home group – not that I expect to – this would be my model.
This kind of church excites me. It’s the kind of church I’d like to be part of. And to be honest, the size wouldn’t matter. Possibly even the smaller the better.
A church free of fear. A church where we can be stripped bare and be transformed.
Can you imagine it? (you can tweet that here)
Does it exist?
I think it could. In fact, I am sure there are places like this out there. My church is the closest I’ve experienced to it.
Is it scary? Yes.
Is it comfortable? No.
But it’s the kind of church where real transformation can take place. It’s where real discipleship occurs, where people are truly healed and where people can experience the deepest depths of grace.
In short, it’s the kingdom of God.
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