This week we’ve been focusing on the concept of “Skin in the Game.”
Today I think it’s important to stop and look at an area where every single Christian should have skin in the game: the church.
The Scripture is really clear on this. It is critically important for the Christian life for believers to gather together with other believers (See Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Corinthians 12:20-25) for encouragement, strengthening, and care.
This shouldn’t be revolutionary, but in today’s society we have plenty of believers who think they are doing just fine without being part of a church. There are “nones” and “dones” who believe they can believe in Jesus but never have to interact with a specific group of believers on a regular basis. This flies in the face of Scripture that calls us to live closely enough to each other (believers in Jesus) that we can practice the “one anothers” with them regularly (see The 59 One Anothers of the Bible).
Now, I am the last person to tell you that you need to show up at 10:00 AM on Sunday morning to a building where songs are sung and a speech is given. I gather in my living room with other believers, sometimes with no real plan for what we’ll do when we gather together. But I know the people who are part of my church. They know me. We have access to each other’s lives and we gather together to strengthen each other.
To be fair, this doesn’t always happen in the lives of people who are part of traditional churches, either. While I know many wonderful people who are part of traditional churches who are meaningfully connected to other believers, I also know many who go to sing and hear someone speak. Their Christian experience is an hour on Sunday, instead of a meaningful connection with real believers.
So, my encouragement to you today is to be a part of a local body of believers. Don’t tune into a church half-way across the nation that doesn’t know you. Don’t sit around and wait for the perfect church (or even the church that isn’t perfect but checks all of your boxes). Go and be a part of some type of gathering where other believers gather and imperfectly attempt to encourage and strengthen each other. If you don’t have one of those near you, you should start one.
Lastly, don’t just go. Be a part of the church. Have skin in the game. You know you’re doing it right when you hurt when the people that are part of your church are hurt. You know you’re doing it right when you consider it your job to make disciples, not just the pastor or the pastoral staff. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you’ve stopped picking and choosing who you want to be your “church” and let God give you a love for the people in your spiritual family. You’ll know you’re doing it right when the health and the vitality of your church is your responsibility, not someone else’s.
When it comes to church, it’s critical you have skin in the game.
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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.