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.
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.
Yesterday I spent some time talking about the issues of pride within house churches. In that post I suggested that receiving the love of God and letting that free you from comparison drives out pride. Today I’d like to focus on a practical method of dealing with pride: confession.
If, when I talk about confession, you start to see pictures of confessional booths and men with collars, you’re probably thinking of the wrong thing. When the Protestant Reformation happened, Luther and his allies announced that all believers were priests and therefore you didn’t have to to a priest to get forgiveness of your sins. But the unfortunate side effect of the Reformation is the practice of confession was all but lost to Bible-believing church.
The apostle James, who as the brother of Jesus obviously believed in direct access to God and the priesthood of all believers, encourages believers to confess their sins to one another because it results in both spiritual and physical healing (James 5:16). At least one aspect of spiritual healing that confession offers is the ability to be healed of our pride. If we are honest with ourselves about our sin, it’s hard to be judgmental towards others.When we expose the darkness in our own hearts to another human being, it becomes much harder to create masks of greatness that feed our pride. If we do, we have brothers or sisters that aren’t deceived by the masks we wear.
Now this is a bit of a chicken and egg sort of problem: Does confession create humility or does humility cause someone to confess their sins to another person? I would tell you the answer is “Yes!” Obviously humble people confess their sins to others, but there are times when confession becomes an act of the will and true humility is birthed in the heart of a believer afterwards. It’s both/and. I can tell you, though, that those who are transparent and honest about the weakness are generally some of the more humble people that I know.
I’ve talked about confession at length here on the blog, both about how confession creates brotherhood and how true transparency births transformation. There are tons of benefits in addition to keeping us humble. The first step is to find someone: another man if you’re a man, another woman if you’re a woman, and begin a regular practice of confession with him or her. If you need a model for this, you can use one we’ve found helpful here.
The point isn’t that you do it perfectly, it’s more important that you start. You may notice a difference immediately, but if you don’t you’ll definitely notice a difference in a year or two. It’s a long game to protect your soul and keep you safe from pride that so easily corrupts spiritual things.
It’s also the place where transformation happens.
Jesus’ last command to His followers was to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Much of the church in the West is largely unaware of how to take a new follower of Jesus and teach them how to follow Him. We need to recover simple, transferable ways to disciple others. Yesterday we looked at how we’ve developed a rhythm of exposing ourselves to divine truth. But discipleship is much more than just exposing ourselves to God’s truth, it’s also building nurturing relationships.
First, let’s state the obvious. God’s desire for His church (literally His “called out ones”) is that they not be single, isolated believers. There are certain situations where Christians are alone because of circumstances beyond their control, but even in the case of missions, Jesus sends people out in groups of two. From the earliest days of humanity God said that “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). God’s design for humanity is that they function within a community of people who love Christ and each other. This is why all over the New Testament there are “one another” commands that encourage us interact and support one another.
We practice these frequently within our house churches, but our 2&3’s have become a deeper expression of that community. As I’ve said, we meet in groups of two and three people of the same gender and practice accountability and confession with each other. To do this, we utilize a set of questions from Neil Cole’s book “Ordinary Hero.” You can see the list below:
Notice a couple of things with this list:
1) These are pretty in your face questions about what you’ve been doing. Most people cringe at the thought of talking about #2. Others think they have no need of talking about #’s 3 and 8. But we ask each other these questions to achieve a kind of intimacy that’s often not achieved without talking about these kind of issues.
2) Number 9 is intentionally left blank. It’s important to leave this list somewhat customizeable, because while it’s important to hit some universal questions, it’s important to be specific. My number 9 question for many many years has been “Have you been faithful to Jesus and the calling on your life this week?” But I’ve known many guys who change their number 9 every couple of months, depending on what the Lord is leading them into at that time. You can find a more thorough list of questions you can use in number 9 that friend of mine developed here.
3) Number 10 on the list is the time we take to discuss the what we’ve read in the word. Notice that it’s in the context of relationship and obedience, not in just a study that never amounts to any action.
4) Lastly, this could be interpreted as a list to be critical of ourselves or others. Instead, this list is a discussion starter. It’s purpose is to get us talking about the areas in our lives described here. If sin is discovered, we pray for one another. A couple of years ago I started to identify an addiction to soda when my friends asked me about #6. Through prayer, counsel, and encouragement, I was able to kick the addiction. But it was only as I talked through the question (that previously I thought did not apply to me) and became honest about my addiction with my friends that transformation happened.
Admittedly this is a process, which can feel mechanical if we let it. But it relies on the fact the truths that we are supposed to “encourage each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), and “motivate one another to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).
What we’ve found as we’ve put this into practice is that these questions (when answered honestly) produce transparency. This transparency births intimacy. When I can be a source of grace and prayer to my brother who is struggling, we grow closer. Much of what we need to achieve transformation in our lives is transparency with another flesh and blood human and prayer that God promises will be effective. And the friendships that are formed from meeting this way last because they are built around Christ and continuing to walk with Him, not around things that fade.
This is simple rhythm has allowed us to develop nurturing relationships that build up the body and bring forth the character of Jesus. Whether you follow this pattern or not, I would encourage you to find the spirit of what’s described here and walk it out with other believers. It’s a gigantic part of discipleship that cannot be ignored.