Why Real Church allows us to be Naked without Fear

UnknownRob 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.

Here, now.



Do you agree or disagree with me? Why/why not?


Is your church a place where secrets are kept, or disclosed?


What do you believe Jesus vision of church was?


Let me know in the comments below!


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  1. Rebekah Grace on April 22, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    James, you’re most certainly speaking my language here! I love everything about this. I ache for this sort of community, having come from quite the opposite in my childhood. I have cried out in a longing and angry cry to God for me to find this place. As of this moment, I have not, but He continues to give me Himself so I can offer this to others. Thank you for writing this, all of it.

    • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      Hey Rebekah, thanks for your kind comment! Really glad the post resonated with you, it’s a subject I’m passionate about. Hope you find the community you are looking for. Be blessed.

  2. Chris Morris on April 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    My wife and I experienced a season of church like this years ago. It was wonderful, healing, and empowering. Something shifted eventually, and the community ended up controlling rather than safe. We’ve been looking for & trying to create this type of environment ever since. It hard, because every single person has to buy in. It only take one mean-spirited gossiper to tear down the trust

    • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm

      Great comment Chris – I think it’s easy for communities as they grow to become more protective, more controlling, because they are trying to appeal to more people and trying to present more of an image (and have one to uphold). I sometimes think smaller churches could be better, certainly for this type of church. Thanks for commenting Chris.

      • Chris Morris on April 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

        I have major misgivings about the mega-church model, and this is one of the reasons. I could write a blog (or a blog series) on how mega-churches can so easily lose the heart of the Gospel behind entertainment, professional Christians, and a concert rather than worship, but I digress. In my experience, the home group is the perfect place for this kind of radical authenticity and honesty to dwell

        • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 5:22 pm

          I get your point about the mega-church model – I think that only works when you have great home groups where this ‘real church’ can happen. Rob Bell managed to create the kind of church I talk about in a mega-church, where it wasn’t a show (Hillsong-style). and where people could bare their souls. But this is the exception sadly.

  3. Sundi Jo Graham on April 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    Great post! Love when we have church, and not just people pretending all is well.

    • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks Sundi, appreciate your comment – totally agree with you!

  4. Scott Postma on April 22, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    James, I’m a church planter, currently leading our second church plant. The atmosphere you describe is the hardest thing we’ve ever tried to create. It’s fallen human nature to hide our sin (think Adam and Eve in the garden). But only when we are willing to confess our sins one to another (James 5) will we be able to get real victory over our sins, habits, and addictions. Only when we are able to be transparent with one another will we be able break the pride barrier in our own lives and have genuine compassion for others. As hard as we try–and I think we, like your faith family, are on the right track–we haven’t come close to arriving. Thanks for the honesty in the post. Great truth.

    • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks for your comment Scott – great to hear about your experiences of this and struggles trying to make it a reality. Praying for you as you continue on this journey.

  5. Joy Lenton on April 22, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    James, I fully agree with Scott regarding how it’s natural to our fallen human condition to hide our sin/shame. Transparency and openness are to be welcomed and applauded in the body of Christ in particular, but our very nature tends to work against that. A fear-based mentalty makes it hard to share in the first place as criticism, misunderstanding or judgement may come our way if we dare to bare our souls. We are all wounded people to one degree or other, even if we hide it well. Ideally, church should be The place where we can let our guard down, be real, authentic, open and honest. Extending compassion and grace to one another is the biblical model Jesus left us to follow, though we fall far short of it at times. If you have already experienced a degree of this in your own church fellowship then that is a great blessing. But I feel it may only be truly workable in a small group context where trust and acceptance are in place and confiddences shared with greater ease. For we live in the ‘now but not yet’ of the Kingdom as ‘works in progress’, and may not arrive at such transparency, love and grace as we wait for the Kingdom to be fully manifest.

    • James Prescott on April 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      A great comment Joy, such wisdom and insight here. I agree it can be easier to achieve this level of honesty in smaller groups – which is why I think small groups are a vital part of any thriving church, and of anyone’s journey of discipleship. Thanks for sharing this with us, always love your comments. 🙂

  6. Elise Stokes on April 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Amen to that! If the cup is dirty on the inside, it should be dirty on the outside. Who do we think we’re fooling anyway? God?

    • James Prescott on April 23, 2013 at 5:41 am

      Precisely! Great comment Elise, thanks for commenting, appreciate it 🙂

  7. Ms. Cheevious on April 23, 2013 at 3:02 am

    huh. I’m not a church going sort… well not in the traditional sense, that is… but I agree… transparency is KEY.

    • James Prescott on April 23, 2013 at 5:40 am

      Absolutely Ms Cheevious, transparency is key! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  8. lisajey on April 23, 2013 at 3:04 am

    Great post James! I go to Agape in Los Angeles… it’s a huge church, and it’s also a place where many slip through undetected I’m sure. There is no easy fix for the human condition… not even in a church… because regardless of how you size it up, we are all humans and imperfect.

    • James Prescott on April 23, 2013 at 5:40 am

      Thanks for your comment Lisa Jey. Agree there is no easy fix for the human condition, because ultimately we’re all imperfect. Imperfect people helping other imperfect people grow…I guess that’s where God comes in.

  9. Luann Robinson Hull on April 23, 2013 at 3:05 am

    wonderfully written. I firmly believe people can do whatever they put their minds to, so yes, I agree… it is possible!

    • James Prescott on April 23, 2013 at 5:38 am

      Thanks Luann, appreciate the comment & the encouragement – and I believe it’s possible too!

  10. Nita Holiday on April 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Great post! People have made great points in your comment section, and the one thing I have to add is the question of relationship. I haven’t been to an AA meeting, but my impression is that people don’t always know one another and yet they share because the format is an expected and accepted one? The reason I ask is because my initial reaction was to think there is no way people would come to church and air their sins to an entire sanctuary full of people, that there would have to be a relationship and trust built beforehand. But that happens other places, because it is assumed and known that people make grave mistakes and can come back from them, that those mistakes don’t have to define who they are. Why do we not make the same assumption in the church, the place that’s supposed to be all about freedom and transformation? People shouldn’t have to have it all figured out before they come to church – they should come to church to figure it all out.

    • James Prescott on April 24, 2013 at 9:39 pm

      Thanks for your amazing comment Nita – I agree totally on the principle of relationship and the points you bring up. Just couldn’t agree more. Church should be a place we come with our mess, where we come without it EVER figured out (because who are we kidding, none of us ever really do) and are just open, honest and vulnerable in a safe, loving, forgiving, accepting environment which takes us as we are but challenges us to change. Talking a lot about this in my grace book, as I talk about grace with an edge.

      This is a great comment – thanks for sharing. 🙂

  11. […] Why Real Church allows us to be Naked without Fear […]

  12. Jesse Hoover on May 23, 2013 at 10:46 am

    I too long for “the church” to embrace this as a whole. It’s been my experience that there are small pockets of people like this that are in every church. Some pockets are big and some are small. True freedom and the real expression of grace are found in these pockets. Great post!

    • James Prescott on May 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks for your comment Jesse and the encouragement, really appreciate it! 🙂

  13. […] Why Real Church allows us to be Naked without Fear […]

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  17. Maria Otto on March 4, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    James Thanks for your article! I ABSOLUTELY believe in what you’re saying because it matches up to what God wants for us!! 1st John 1 to walk in the light, unashamed, bare and raw. It’s what allows us to experience God’s amazing love and grace for us imperfect people. It brings us so much joy to live this kind of life. I’m a part of Shore Points Church in the Jersey Shore and THIS is exactly what we’re striving for. We are all sinners and in so much need of God’s grace that leads to transformation. we are striving for vulnerability with God and one another. It’s the ONLY way we could become the people God wants us to be and to have the kinds of relationships he wants us to have. SO FULFILLING

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