Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Church and the Things People Hide!

My blogging peer Michael over at Megaloi-Great Things posted a thought-provoking piece recently. He raised the issue of a lack of transparency in church circles despite our claims to be an open, sharing community. He notes the following encounter at a church small group:

Classmate: I think our church is an open place, and the members are open with one another. We share our lives.

Me: I don't think that's true.

Classmate: What do you mean?

Me: I think most of our lives, especially the struggles, are almost completely hidden from our church friends. Take divorce, for example. At least five couples in our group have been separated and divorced over the past few years, and none of us saw it coming. Because they never opened up to any of us about the problems in their marriage. For all I know many of you are having those types of struggles right now. Or maybe Jamie and I am. But the history shows that you'd never know and we don't talk about it here.

Classmate: What can we do about that, though? If they don't choose to be honest and share their lives, how can we know if they need help?

Me: That's just the thing -- I think we've created an environment that makes it almost impossible to be honest about these things. It's like there's a list of sins or problems that we're not allowed to talk about at church.

Classmate: (Challenging) Give me an example.

Me: Let's start with sex, since it's probably the easiest and most obvious. Do you think there are men in this church who struggle with lust, pornography and adultery?

Classmate: Probably.

Me: No probably, I guarantee it. With more than 1,000 members in this church, I guarantee you that there are triple-digit numbers of guys wrestling with pornography. I'm one of them, but it never gets talked about here.

Female classmate: (confused) Triple digits?

Me: At least 100 guys. Sexual temptation and struggle is almost written into our DNA, but after more than 30 years attending church I can't think of a single time I personally witnessed a man testify to his struggle with sexuality. We don't talk about it, and that silence makes it seem that nobody is having this problem. So 100 guys are left to feel alone with no support system until the problem grows large enough for painful consequences to set in.

Classmate: Okay, I see what you're saying. Are there more things on this list?

Me: Substance abuse, greed/stealing, addictions of various types. How many times have any of you seen a public or even classroom/group setting where a person confessed to one of these things? The only struggles that seem to be okay to discuss at church are depression, joblessness, and "not living better for Jesus". Meanwhile we wrestle with all of these other very real issues on our own.

Classmate: But what would change that?

Me: Somebody would have to be very brave and step out in trust that they could talk about this type of thing in vulnerable confession, and that the group would respond in love. If it worked, it might make it easier for the second person to come forward. If not, then we'd prove we aren't a safe place to come with problems, and we can forget about getting deeper than the happy-looking surface level in this building. I think it's tragic, and that Jesus would say this is a place for the sick and the hurting. How sad that this is the last place people want to bring their real problems.

Unlike Michael, I have experienced times of transparency in the church that have provided powerful moments of healing from those that are hurting behind closed doors...but perhaps not often enough

Tammy and I have run marriage groups that ran over the course of 14 weeks.  The first 3-4 weeks everyone is pretty tightlipped, and then slowly, as they get to know one another, things come out.  And then everyone realizes that we are ALL struggling with the same issues.  One wife, wishing her husband would be more like "that guy" in the church, finds out "that guy's" wife is really irritated with the same things she is.  Husbands find out that their struggles are not isolated but shared by most everyone else.  Put that in an atmosphere where we are asking God to to restore and Whammo... lives are healed and marriages are strengthened.

But it doesn't happen near enough.  We live in a culture saturated with sensuality and lust and I just read an article at CNN that for the first time there is a significant number of 20 something males that are off of the "long term" relation market affecting the marriage prospects for women.

 The reason?

Internet pornography is so wide spread that they choose to forgo the commitment and expense of an actual relationship and simply, "take care of themselves".

If the church thinks this issue doesn't affect its congregations, worship teams, leadership teams, and even its better think again.

And yet it is the church that has the answer which is the Grace of God provided through Jesus Christ.

Its tragic though when churches fail to really teach grace in areas where people struggle because then the initial blessing that the transparency provides morphs into a never ending cycle of guilt and shame that stem from the sin, repent, sin, repent lifestyle.

I've mentioned before how I've known far too many church men's groups that instead of providing a platform for equipping and releasing men for works of ministry degenerate into confession booths for weekly sexual temptation mishaps.

Here's hoping for increased transparency in the church so that God's grace can be released even more.


Bob said...

When I read Michael's post, I was a bit surprised because, as I told him in my commnent, I have been part of a church for quite some time that encourages being up front about struggles, e.g. pornography. But you hit on exactly what I did not articulate -- finally doing something about it. I have been part of men's groups that were just real downers because it was like all lust, all the time. I appreciated what a struggle and temptation it was but I never saw too much effort toward embracing true redemption.

I swore off men's groups years ago largely for this reason. I miss the camaraderie but I still have some close friends to whom I know I can go with anything, and they to me. Michael's post, however, made me aware how much I need those relationships.

There's also a fine line between not being real and maybe being "too real." Have been in some couples small groups where maybe too much was shared at one time and it became uncomfortable.

Your post here, and Michael's, have reminded me how much we all need each other, bearing one another's burdens.

Steve H. said...


You express my sentiments exactly. I tend to steer away from "men's groups" a little as well. When they are really a group of men bonded together, it can be great but too often it can seem artificial and have the feel of "well churches are supposed to have men's groups so lets have a mens group"

And yes, bridges need to be built into people's lives before we start driving emotional trucks over them :)

Redlefty said...

The cycle of guilt and shame was very insightful! I agree with that issue as a root weakness that holds some churches back from real connection.

Glad the post was meaningful to you! Apparently my church's dysfunction has some redemptive value after all. :)