Thinking Church – Safe For Honesty?
In the Internet Age, especially since the advent of Web 2.0, a sadly useful acronym has appeared in the public consciousness. SFW/NSFW is a tag that many people put in the title of emails and forwards to let the recipient know whether the content of that email is Safe For Work or Not Safe For Work.
My last Thinking Church post, where I tagged the church as SFH (Safe For Honesty) sparked some conversation! If you only knew how hard I wrestled with misgivings before adding that last line! So first, know that I am as unnerved and nettled(?) by this idea as you are. I’m also trying to avoid anecdotal discussion, where maybe MY church is SFH but that church down the road??? NSFH all the way!
No, I don’t want to get into that. It doesn’t do anyone any good, and Jay Guin has pretty much convinced me that that kind of consumer-franchise-competition mentality is unworthy of the kingdom of God. I really believe that the church that Christ bought and is gathering together isn’t just Safe For Honesty, but is in desperate need of people to take advantage of that safety by speaking out in faith about what’s really going on in their world.
The Spirit of Christ draws us together from all corners of creation, all walks of life, all races and social classes and backgrounds. We come together with all that baggage – you don’t have to drop it to get in, and a lot of it can’t be dropped even if you wanted to. But here’s where the church is different from the bar or the country club or the water cooler or MOPS or wherever else people get together. In those places, you have to prove something to people about yourself. I don’t know what it is, and it changes from place to place and group to group, but your status and the level of welcome you receive is shaped by limiting the amount of negative information people know about you. You can’t lay down your baggage – you certainly can’t open it up and sort through the dirty laundry – and there’s definitely no one interested in helping you decide what to get rid of and what to keep!
In the church, though, (and it’s because Christians have forgotten this that people get crushed by churches – James 1:23-25) everyone has already seen the worst of themselves in the mirror. You can’t get in otherwise – that’s part of the work of the Spirit in conversion. Jesus calls us by showing us ourselves at our worst and Himself at his best: at the Cross. When you see the worst of yourself, and you’re surrounded by people who have shared that experience, you’re free to lay down your bags and get rid of so much junk that’s weighing you down. One of my favorite Max Lucado books, Traveling Light, looks at Psalm 23 as a guide for sorting spiritual luggage.
So if the church is SFH, why are we so leery of being honest there? Lots of reasons. Some folks have forgotten what they saw in the mirror. That’s a biggie – and one job of church leadership is to do what it takes to help those people remember. I don’t mean hellfire and brimstone preaching, but in an age of feel-good, self-help messages professionally crafted to attract young, middle-class families, it is easy for the offense of the Cross to fade away behind the coffee bar and the sign of peace. We need to turn Jesus loose in our midst and let his shocking challenges do their heart-softening work among us.
Another reason, a more natural one, is that Jesus doesn’t force us to drop our bags. We (who know all-too-well what we’ve stashed away in there) come from a world that says, “Carry that yourself! Don’t let anyone see it, and would someone get this guy some air freshener???” It is completely natural that we’re frightened to open up in public. We’ve heard urban legends about people being thrown under the bus (maybe even experienced the legend?) and who wants to risk that?
Hear me, though: the church desperately needs you to be honest. I know its scary – I’ve been continuing my theological education in public for over a decade now, and I will never go back to hiding again. I haven’t gotten braver, though – what has happened is that I’ve noticed that the Spirit of God has been right there supporting me, strengthening me, and taking advantage of my honesty to offer a bit of grace to someone who didn’t know you could talk like that at church. And that’s why the church is Safe For Honesty – because only in the church does the Spirit of God come alongside you at every turn to bless anyone willing to give a listen. Only in the church does the Spirit of Christ invite you to, amid a great cloud of witnesses, lay down every hindering weight from those bags. Only in the church does the Holy Spirit of the One True God protect and seal wounded hearts and use simple honesty like SuperGlue to put broken God-sculptures back together.
So yeah, the church is SFH even in her wild imperfection. It is Safe For Honesty simply because Christianity is designed to run on honesty – that’s what brings us together and that’s what keeps us together. What do you think?
in HIS love,