A healthy church is messy, but it’s not dirty…

A healthy church is messy, but it’s not dirty…

There’s no way to be in Christian community without it getting messy.  People are messy.  Their stories are messy.  As someone said to me the other day in church: “I’m complicated.”  We all are pretty complicated creatures if we’re honest with ourselves.  So if you’re in a church that is seeking to be real, plan on it being more than a little messy.

But messy isn’t dirty.

Dirty means something different to me.  Dirty is manipulative.  Dirty is mean.  Dirty is controlling.  Dirty is divisive.  Dirty religion is what has burnt so many people down through the years.  Dirty leadership is secretive.  It has angles and agendas.  It abuses power and authority.  Dirty churches put up with cultures of slander and anger.  Selfishness and Stubbornness. 

A messy church welcomes people in process.  It provides a safe place to let down your guard and share your less impressive self.  It applauds honesty and encourages vulnerability.  It admits wrongdoing and humbly acknowledges a desperate need for grace.  A messy church doesn’t weed out the high-maintenance people, it includes them and patiently comes along side them to teach them social and emotional boundaries.  It isn’t afraid to speak truth to lies, but does so with love and mercy knowing how long-suffering Jesus has been with all of us.  A messy church is a healthy church…not because it wants to let people stay messy, but because it gives people permission to be human, their true selves.  The more acceptance people feel even in their brokenness, the more likely they are to find healing and freedom.  Again, a messy church actually is a free church because people aren’t hiding behind disguises, they are dealing with their issues and getting help.  And people that are getting help are more likely to get free.  That’s just the way it is.

But I’ve experienced dirty churches with dirty intentions and pretentions.  It’s nothing like a messy church.  It’s civilized evil, sanitized sin.  It’s corrupt to the core and the fruits are pride, prejudice, and power.  There is a competitive attitude, a threatened and threatening spirit.  Pecking orders are all over the place and politics drive the decisions that are made.  It seems that people with affluence and influence are given better seats at the table.  New people have to prove themselves to be trustworthy by submitting to authority even when something seems fishy.  Pastors make people feel like they must fear God’s wrath if they step out from under the spiritual covering of the leadership.  This keeps people in line, but you can feel that people are driven by guilt, not grace.  Laws, not love.  Dirty religion is something you can’t see at first, but after a while, you just feel suppressed and stifled, crushed under the weight of your worthlessness and inability to please God or anybody in leadership.  This may exist in some churches, but this is not to be tolerated.  This isn’t messy, this is dirty.  It has nothing to do with God.

I just felt like I wanted to make that distinction clear today.  I’m all for embracing the mess of humanity, that was how Jesus operated and how people were eventually transformed.  But I hate dirty religion and all that comes with it.  A messy church showcases the power of love; a dirty church showboats the love of power.

Lord, help us to be like You.


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