The modern church has put quite a premium on energy. We hit the ground running every Sunday morning, with high-energy music, big smiles and a contagious enthusiasm that says, “this is the place to be!” Fast-growing churches know that an excited platform means an excited pew, right? Being upbeat, positive, and full of energy keeps people moving forward, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes lows get mixed in with our highs…weeds grow among flowers…storms interrupt sunshine…every day has a big chunk of night…okay, you get the point.
Now, I’m not going to argue for depressing worship services. We need our Sundays to convey our enthusiasm for God, His truth, and the chance to be together. Sure, someone in the group will be coming off a bad week, and we probably don’t want to let their mood dictate sour expressions for the rest of us. But where is the line when it comes to being real?
Churches don’t grieve well. When a valued member dies, we shake our heads with a grim expression, tell each other that we don’t sorrow like those without hope, and then hustle to the fellowship hall to eat potato salad with the family. It seems we are determined that our enthusiasm not be slowed by real life sorrow, for fear that our Sunday attendance might take a step backward.
Or when leadership conflict sends a pastor packing, we don’t dare grieve that publicly. What if the dirty laundry comes out? What if someone’s misunderstanding or personal frustrations leak onto someone else. Better we not talk about that. And many churches are left with loads of dirty laundry buried beneath their floorboards. What a mess! What a tragedy!
The past two Sundays, I’ve attended a church that’s just learned of their pastor’s moral failure. Emotions are running high. Anger, disappointment, confusion, disillusionment, and a curiosity about what’s next bubble at the surface for hundreds of people. And this church is doing something unique. Leaders are being honest about their feelings. Pulpit fill-ins are talking about their own bruised emotions, letting the rest of us know that it’s okay to feel what we are feeling. The normally high energy services can’t compete with the general heaviness currently resting on the congregation, but most have found these services to be among the most meaningful and helpful they can remember.
They say that the truth hurts, but it also helps. No, there’s no public revelation of details that would best be private, but people are seeing that what they feel isn’t weird or out of place, and they’re finding good guidance into how to deal with those feelings.
Shouldn’t church be a real place, where real people get help for dealing with real stuff? And when a church faces a crisis together, shouldn’t the family of God join hands and weep together? If they don’t–if we keep acting like nothing happened so we don’t slow the tempo–how will people learn how to face hard times in their own lives? Sadly, many are left with a random sermon and an invitation to a quick altar prayer as the core strategy for dealing with life’s setbacks. Real problems aren’t easy to dispel before the Sunday clock hits noon.
No, I’m not suggesting funeral dirges replace your opening chorus. Just keep it real. And when life kicks your people in the stomach, help them get their breath back and their ribs bandaged before sprinting to the next mountaintop. Remember you want a healthy church, not one that teaches people to deny their hurts or pretend their pain isn’t real.
A great read: The Emotionally Healthy Church, by Peter Scazzaro.