Christianity’s Dirty Little Secret


The church in the West has a secret that is often exposed but no one talks about. The secret is this: We have a lot of people who are part of churches that are terribly wounded and broken, but act like they have it all together and are experts in Christianity.

To be fair, preachers, leaders, and bumper stickers tell us this all the time. They say things like Christianity isn’t for the perfect, it’s for the broken or the church is not for perfect people. But life in our churches gets lived out in such a way that at least some look like they have every aspect of their life together: marriage, kids, ministry, etc.

This became abundantly clear to me the further I moved away from Christianity as an event (Sunday morning service, prayer meeting, revival meetings) to Christianity as a lifestyle.  The less we gave ourselves to meetings and the more we met in each others’ homes, dealt with each others’ children, and became transparent with each other, the more we began to see issues. It wasn’t that we were bad people, where we had come from we were thought of as the cream of the crop. In reality, it was that we had lived at such a distance from each other that our issues could hide beneath the surface and not have to get dealt with.

Why does this happen? I believe it’s a subtle mix of good intentions and fear. Many fear being outed for the things in their past and the things in their present. The fear of what others would think of us if they truly knew how bad things are keeps us from being honest about our situation. Others, I think, truly believe in some spiritual form of “fake it till you make it” and put up a clean front so they aren’t a bad testimony.  They try and clean up the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. This is a deception, but I know well meaning people who have attempted to do it.

If I don’t mention it, someone will write in and remind me about pride and hypocrisy. These are real, too, though I don’t think we start there. I think we start in some mix of fear or good intentions and then over years of acting, we develop pride and hypocrisy around the image we present to others.  This last version of us is actually worse than the broken version of ourselves that we are so unwilling to show others, but we feel protected. As Jesus says, the last state of this person is worse than the first.

I say all of this as a Christian who has had dirty little secrets of my own. My intent is not to cast stones, but to say this: We are way more broken than we let on and it’s killing us. The unconfessed sin and double sided lives that we lead are letting issues fester within us in the dark, but they affect how we live life in the world and short circuit the life God desires us to have.  Even if no one in our church knows, it’s still affecting the church.

The good news is there is an answer for this trap. It’s called living in the light. It’s a hard, sometimes painful process where we begin to live close enough to other believers that they can truly know us and we can truly know them.  When we see issues in each others’ lives, we talk through them. We pray for each other. When we see issues in our own lives, we confess them to those believers living closely with us.  This is the process Jesus gives us to be transformed:

But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

1 John 1:7-9

This, friends, is the open secret…something so good and not hidden at all, yet few people know and practice: God wants us to come into the light with the real issues of our lives. When we bring our true selves into God’s light with other brothers and sisters, that’s where healing can occur. We can’t force others to go there, we can only go there ourselves and hope others come with us. As others see us learning to truly love and be honest about our own junk, they begin to believe it’s possible for themselves.

My hope is you are beginning to believe it is possible for you. Christianity needs it.


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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

11 responses to “Christianity’s Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Desiray says :

    Wow! Excellent post. Lots of truth you shared. I have always hoped that people would be honest but when we don’t we are listening to the devil. He wants us to silent and ignorant towards God’s word.

  2. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    Travis; You have a lot of good points. I really like your point about living in relationship instead of just having “event” based Christianity. It is not a cure-all — a person can always cling to his hidden sin — but, it is harder to hide your sin when people around you actually spend time with you and get to really know you. Also, that type of commitment to you from others creates a sense of security which allows you to confess your sin and leave it behind. — Gunnar

  3. Marshall says :

    “living in the Light” is a powerful move running contrary to the former cultural norms which, before the Light of Christ came into our sight, were so much taken as to be our life — a shadowed and more-or-less secret living. Love/Christ is to breaking-thru and out of the fears for realizing our transformation in Christ. What Gunnar’s reply here describes as “hidden sin”, fear has so frequently redefined as-if to be our only reasonable course. But fear lies to us. As also from I John 1:7-9, living in the Light precedes our fellowship with one another… yet faith stepping forward prompts heaven to bring Christ’s Light to life in us.

  4. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    Marshall: I think you are exactly right. We do define our “hidden sins” as “our only reasonable course”. We know it is wrong, but we don’t want to give it up,so we tell ourselves that we have no choice but to live with it. And, I agree that you have to come into the light of Jesus before we can come into fellowship. Fellowship itself will not reveal the hidden sins. It is our desire to be in the light, our desire to pursue Jesus, that makes fellowship so effective in revealing our hidden sins and in enabling us to walk free of them. Gunnar

    • traviskolder says :

      Hey Guys

      Thanks for the good discussion. I would agree with you both that “Living in the Light” is conditional for true fellowship with one another. I would probably make a distinction between those who have found themselves in darkness because of an unrepentant lifestyle and those believers with besetting sins…I see fellowship as impossible for the first group and helpful for the latter. Hopefully that was clear.

  5. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    Travis: I am not sure that I really believe in “besetting sins”. I agree that we have areas where we struggle more than others, and there are certain sins which we repeatedly fall into. But I also think that all sin is willful disobedience, and, with these “besetting sins”, I think that they are areas where we have sort of decided the battle is too strong, and so we live with them, feeling guilty and repenting, but, at the same time, never really believing that we can have a real victory over them. But that is just my view. People have argued over these things for a long time. But, regardless, the intimacy and security and accountability of a strong relationship is the best place to bring these besetting sins into the light and seek victory over them. Gunnar

  6. the Josh Benner Blog says :

    Great post. I agree. I was actually literally talking about this same subject this evening with my girlfriend. Too often, people in the church want to put up this facade. We act like having it all together is next to Godliness.

  7. Dee Stover says :

    We have met with small groups where they just keep splintering because no one meets their perfection criteria. No one stays long enough to work together past the judging to get to the working through issues part. I think i just notice it more in the small groups because there are fewer others to camoflage the troubles. It is likely just as bad at the larger churches. We just dont see the fallout as much.

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