Someone asked me how things were going recently. It’s not really a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ (‘good’ or ‘bad’) question. Life in our congregation is messy. People have a wide variety of problems and many of those problems are out on the table. Are things going well when one of your members has been hauled out of a pub in drunken state? When people admit problems in their marriage? When several people are struggling with depression? And I could go on. Actually I think the answer can be ‘Yes, things are going well’. A key verse for me in recent years has been the first beautitude which I paraphrase as: ‘Blessed are the broken people for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ To working with broken people is to be where God’s blessing is found. I do not rejoice in people’s problems, but I do rejoice that I am working among people with problems. Indeed I sometimes describe our church as a group of messy people led by messy people. It has proved a context in which I have been able to address my own struggles. What is the alternative. One alternative is to be a church in which there is a lot of pretending; in which people have problems, but in which the culture does not allow people to be open about them. Churches like this are very neat and respectable. But I know I would rather be in a messy church! Mess reflects, I think, a culture of grace. We pretend because either we do not trust God’s grace for ourselves or we do not trust other people to show us grace.
The question I have been pondering for a while is whether there is a third option in addition to messy and pretending. Are there churches in which most people are ‘sorted’ – not sinless, but have got their lives together? I think I would call this category of church ‘excluding’ because I think they create a culture in which messy people don’t feel welcome. But it may be that if you looked closely you would find that such churches are really pretending churches that are just very good at the pretending! I’m not sure. If you have an answer or any further thoughts then please leave a comment.