Leaders of churches have a choice. We can try to impress people by describing their church in glowing nuanced terms that present a picture of what they think people want to hear or what they secretly wish were true about their church. Or we can just tell the truth and trust God for the results.
I’m at the stage in life where I’d rather tell the truth. The truth is that a “perfect” church is not a healthy church because we all suspect what the leaders and God know—there’s a lot of stuff they’re not telling us. Spiritual health, by its very definition, insists on truth. Healthy churches admit that we’re struggling toward spiritual maturity together—that it’s a messy but wondrously redemptive process.
So, you want to know what’s really going on in the healthy community of faith we call Church of the Open Door? Here’s the raw truth—in all its messy glory! This is an excerpt from the manuscript of a sermon I preached from our pulpit a few years ago:
The Raw Truth—What You’ll Discover
If you become a part of this faith community, you’ll discover that we’re extremely excited about what God is doing here as He releases the resurrection power from our lives. But also notice that we often fail, that we devote a lot of energy to planning the life of our church to maximize the releasing of this resurrection power, but sometimes, nothing goes according to our plan. Sometimes God exposes our plans as lacking, and that we’ve learned to admit that and live with the consequences.
You’ll discover that our leaders really take our assignment from God seriously—to love care for His people as selfless shepherds, to lay down our lives for the people we lead. But, you’ll also notice that our leaders—beginning with me—have problems, shortcomings, weaknesses, and limitations. We sometimes slip back into sin patterns and relational dysfunction we have been battling for years, even decades. God helps us through the white water of our failures as we open our lives to the protective love of Him and one another. We count on this love to tell us the truth in ways that keep our deficiencies and imperfections from severely harming those we lead or wounding them too deeply.
You’ll discover that the marriages, families, and friendships in our community of faith are valued and often extremely close, that we gather in smaller groups to love support and pray for one another earnestly. You’ll meet people at Church of the Open Door who will tell you that if it wasn’t for what Christ is doing in their lives and the encouragement and support they receive from their friends in this church, their marriage never would have made it. They will wonder at the power of God’s truth we teach here, and the loving support they receive to believe those truths. They know that His Word and love expressed through this fellowship have made every difference in moving their family toward health or turning their children around. You will meet some who will tell you that the healing of their marriage or family or friendships has been nothing short of miraculous.
But you will also realize that some of our marriages suffer from lack of love and attention, that some of our children walk away from God and live lives that break our hearts. Husbands and wives even walk away from their homes, destroying the hope of their abandoned families and bruising their souls severely.
You will meet addicts who are living clean and sober because of the power of Jesus’ resurrection life in a safe and healing community. They will tell you that if it weren’t for the grace of God as they have experienced it here, they would probably be dead…or worse.
And yet, we’re not going to hide the fact that some of our addicts straining toward sobriety relapse and use again and again. Some never get better; a few have died from the consequences of their addiction…or worse.
There are people sitting in our worship service that have been healed from horrible diseases or have lived when the doctors said there was no hope—I’m one of those. We have wonderful stories of how this church prayed for us earnestly and persistently, and how God turned our health around, or saved us from certain death.
But, sadly, some of our most faithful followers of Christ we beg God to heal suffer terribly with vicious diseases and chronic health problems, many die too soon, and we don’t know why.
The friendships here are deep and meaningful and satisfying. We tell each other hard things, stand with one another through the hardest days of life, and find in the fabric of the relationships of this faith community the sustaining energy that only resurrection-powered friendships will ever know.
But of course we have Christians here—from the very immature to the ones who should have grown up years ago, who continue to hurt one another terribly, demand their rights, and in moments of weakness for the immature believer, and in patterns of persistent sin for the ones who should have grown up, gossip and strike out at one another, even get mad, walk away from our sustaining relationships, and leave the church. We grieve their leaving the protective love of this fellowship of followers of Christ.
Yet somehow, in the messy mixture of victories, celebrations, worship, and hope, with failure, disappointments, sin and the pain and chaos of everyday life, the gospel takes root and we see the resurrection life of Jesus taking hold in the lives of those who will trust Him enough to stay engaged with Him and with us.
That’s what happens in this church—failure, confusion, even sin and pain, become ways to learn God’s grace and grow in our trust of Him and one another. Healing, victories, hope, encouragement, and love are also explained by God’s grace working in this community as we grow together by trusting Him and one another.
People just like you take Jesus at His word and receive God’s mercy and grace. Their recovery and transformation depend primarily on whether these people believe what Jesus says about life, about God, about them—that He loves them passionately and will run them down with His love. But they must also believe what He says about us—that the safest place to receive and grow in His love is not a perfect church full of people who either believe or are acting like they have it all together and that they have this Jesus thing figured out, but a healthy church full of imperfect people just like them who are struggling together trusting Jesus for all that they know and are learning about Him.
As these trusting followers of Christ discover that God forgives them and continues to love them no matter how badly we fail Him, and as we determine to forgive one another and continue to love one another no matter how badly we fail each another, Christ’s resurrection power creates the space we need to be healed.
We’re humbled by both the successes and the failures in this spiritual family we call Church of the Open Door; we’re humbled by the grace of God that privileges us to be a part of one another’s life in this way.
Question: Which type of church would you rather go to? The one that appears to have it all together on the outside, or the one that simply admits we’re all stumbling forward together?