A messy church or a pretending church

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.


5 thoughts on “A messy church or a pretending church

  1. I don’t normally comment, but the invitation is too tempting to resist.

    I think you’re right. In recent weeks i have been reflecting on how fearful I am of the consequences of people in my Church finding out the worst about each other. Will it lead to things falling to pieces? Will it cause pain, conflict, anger, division? Probably, I guess.

    But why do I fear that? Do I trust that the gospel word is robust and relevant? Do I believe that God will fulfil his promises to a Church of broken people? Or does he deal with sorted, even self-righteous people?

  2. Angie may have filled you in on how messy our “fellowship” had become. We are diligently trying to sort through this. I found this entry one that might well apply to our present situation. I also see Americans as being too proud, too independent, very traditional, they think that they are always right. The church has become cloistered communities, where people dress a certain way, wear masks and very little that is truth is addressed. I’ve called it playing at church for some time. I don’t want to continue in this way (I am not in anyway saying that I am above this behavior) but after all wouldn’t it be easier? Anyway I am looking in all directions for the answers. From here I will go to a book sight to explore the possibility of getting Goldsworthys “Gospel and Kingdom”, that Andy mentioned on his sight. Thanks for another thought.

  3. I wonder if I will ever read an advertisement for a church worker job in a Christian publication where the church is described as ‘messy’ and ‘broken’, rather than ‘happy’, ‘thriving’. I know if I were writing the advert I’d be very tempted to paint a ‘all is well here’ picture.

    “Apprentices wanted from September 2007 to work in our needy church with messy relationships and broken people. Board and lodging provided”

  4. Ha! Messy church just about sums it up, so many people with so much baggage and chaos all around. I hate respectable church but this messy church is so hard. I’m constantly amazed how Jesus loves his church….

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