Updated: Nov 22
Her name was Phyllis.
She approached me one morning after church to ask for help. I was in my early twenties at the time. Phyllis was a single mom with a nine-year-old son named Donnie who was starting to get into trouble. She felt like he needed a positive male influence. That's why she approached me. She asked if I would spent some time with Donnie.
I was a bit taken back by her forwardness. I don't know if I would have told her no, even if I had wanted to. I wasn't sure I was the right person for the job. "A postive male influence," I thought, "does she know me." But I said yes anyway.
Donnie and I started hanging out on weekends. I lived in an apartment in Plainfield Indiana at the time with a roomate named Mandy. Yes, she was a girl, and no, she wasn't my girl-friend. We were just roomates. Donnie, Mandy, and I became like a surogate family for each other. Over the years, I saw Donnie grow through elementary school, middle-school, and high-school. We just kept hanging out. I can't say how much of a good influence I was, but I was there for Donnie. We're still friends to this day. When ever I'm back in Plainfield, we make sure to get together and hang out. He's even been out here, to East Tennessee to visit me.
This is what Church is meant to be, and be about.
Church is meant to be a place where we bring our struggles and needs to the table and see what community can do to help. The Church, after all, is not a place, it's a group of people that love each other within the context of the love of God.
The Church is meant to be a reflection of the love of God to the world. How we love each other should mirror how God loves us.
So, if the Church is messed up in the way it loves, then it has a messed up view of how God loves. And, guess what, we all have a messed up view of God.
No body's getting it right, or doing it well.
That's the Gritty Gospel.
The Gritty Gospel is the raw reality of where each of us is, individually. We're all messed up, and we all need a lot of help, support, and grace on the journey of getting better.
The Pretty Gospel is the opposite of that.
The Pretty Gospel is our attempt to look good and act like nothings wrong. It's our attempt to appear righteous, when there's no depth to that righteousness. God didn't send His Son so we could feel like we're better than others, but so that we could get better. We only get better when we're real about the mess we're in.
That's the point of the Gospel.
The point of the Gospel of Jesus is that we can't get it right. That's why we need God's help. That's why God sent Jesus to the world, to show us the Way back to the Father. We need a lot of help. The Church should be a group of people that understand how to help and support each other as we stumble and struggle on our healing journey back to God.
The Church should be the one space where being honest about our mess is not only welcomed, but encouraged. If we're not honest about our mess, we'll never get better. If we're afraid to be exposed for the mess we're in, we're going to struggle even more. If we're surrounded by other people who are afraid of the mess we're in, we're in trouble.
The Church should not be a place where we put our best foot forward, and attempt to show the best version of ourselves.
The Church should be a place where we can just be ourselves, whatever that looks like on any given day.
Is that the kind of Church that exists in the world today?
What are most churches doing, and what are most churches about?
Most churches are centered around a building, services, and programs. Most churches are attempting to foster community for a group of Christians, and marshal that group to help the larger community around them. But how does that play out?
If you look at the budget of any local church, you'll find that about 90 percent of the money it takes in stays in. But what does that 90 percent go towards? It mostly goes towards the building and the staff. What does a local church do with it's building and staff?
Most local churches and staff produce an hour long service on Sunday morning. Beyond that you'll usually find a youth group that meets once a week. Sometimes you'll find small groups, sometimes a Wednesday service. In addition most churches have seasonal activities and community programs. They may have a men's breakfast, or ladies night out every so often. They may do a food drive or clothing give away from time to time. This is what most local churches do with their building, money, and staff.
Think about that.
Think about the financial intake versus the output.
It costs a lot of money to have a church building with a full-time paid staff. If that building and staff are only housing and producing services and programs a few hours a week, is that an effective input-output ratio?
I run a small construction business. Luckly, I'm not brick-and-mortar. I don't have a building, or a crew. It's just me. I have to put in a good, full week of work to make it. If I only produced a few hours of work a week, my business wouldn't survive.
Granted, a church is not a business.
But it does take in money to produce something.
What is the Church meant to produce?
An hour long, once-a-week service with songs and a sermon?
An hour long youth service?
Some random group get-togethers and small groups?
The Church is meant to produce followers of Jesus that know how to walk as Jesus did in the World.
The question is, does the effort of a local church produce the desired outcome? Does the staff, building, and handful of services and programs produces followers of Jesus?
Let's think about that in terms of time? Could you learn a trade one hour a week, in a group setting, without any one-on-one contact or attention? No way. The same is true when it comes to learning how to follow Jesus. Learning to follow Jesus is a full-time commitment. A less than part-time approach to a full-time job doesn't work.
Despite all the good a local church does, considering all the effort, time, and money it consumes, it's input-output ratio is largely ineffective to produce the main thing Jesus desires and requires; namely, Christians.
A Christian is not someone who shows up at a building once or twice a week.
A Christian is not someone who gives ten percent of their money to support a ministry.
A Christian is not someone with the right truths and morals.
A Christian is not someone who makes a one-time commitment to Christ.
A Christian is someone who can be as Christ in the world.
If Christians aren't actually following Christ, and our Christian institutions aren't creating followers of Christ, then all we're doing is a waste of time, money, and effort.
We could and should do better.
It's true that we're all messed-up.
Christian's and Christian groups aren't neccasirily any better than anyone else.
But the way we're attempting to get better should be.
Jesus set the example of how to create disciples. He spent a lot of one-on-one time mentoring people into life with God. He didn't spent much time in the churches of his day. He didn't preach many sermons. He certainly didn't get paid.
Jesus' focus was building relationships to create the time and space for people to work out their mess in the context of a supportive and consistent community. The local church environment simply doesn't produce that kind of support or community. But it could.
What if we dropped the focus on programs, services, staff, and buildings and focused more on people? What if we focused more on helping support others in the midst of their struggles, instead of trying to produce limited, over-structured social environments? What if we broke wide open the use and availability of our church buildings and staff? What if, instead of malls, coffee-houses, and bars, the local church building was where people started coming to hang out, congregate, converse, and meet. What if church staff were available to serve their community full time?
What if we started doing Church different?
I think we can.
I think we should.
What do you think?