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Church is for Messy People

May 8, 2014

“Put on your Sunday best!” I used to hear that from my grandmothers on a regular basis. And not just for Christmas Eve and Easter either. They both grew up in a time when going to Church meant breaking out the absolute best shirt, tie, slacks, coat, shoes, dress, bonnet, etc… Times have changed, and this is not necessarily the case anymore, but most folks would agree that it is important to at least look “put together” when heading out for worship, right? Problem is, while we look great on the outside, the inside looks completely different.

Stephen Altrogge writes an insightful article on this very subject.

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We tend to get dressed up for church. Depending on your denomination, getting dressed up might look like wearing a suit and tie or a dress. Or, getting dressed up might look like wearing your best pair of jeans and a collared shirt. We clean up before going to church. We shower and we brush our hair. We want to, at the least, look like we have it together. For the most part, we don’t go to church wearing yoga pants or sweatpants. We don’t roll out of bed and go straight to church.

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.”

Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

  • I’m talking about the couple who is seeking the Lord, and yet their daughter is not a Christian, and is living with her boyfriend.
  • I’m talking about the young man who is following Jesus, yet also deals with deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • I’m talking about the woman who loves Jesus, yet also finds herself regularly struggling with homosexual desires.
  • I’m talking about the teenage boy who is trying to live for Jesus, yet also struggles with cutting himself.
  • I’m talking about the woman who has followed Jesus for many years, yet can’t come to church anymore because she is racked with arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • I’m talking about the older single man who is faithfully following Jesus, yet regularly struggles with despair because he isn’t married.
  • I’m talking about the woman who walks with Christ, yet can’t seem to overcome her struggles with being overweight.
  • I’m talking about the young woman who is new to following Christ, and isn’t quite sure how to handle her struggle with bulimia.

How can we serve “messy” people? How can we make “messy” people feel welcome in our churches? Several ways.

Don’t act shocked when we see sin. Unfortunately, we tend to act shocked when certain sins or struggles come to light. We aren’t surprised by pride or anger or impatience. But we are shocked when someone says they struggle with suicidal thoughts or homosexual desires or the desire to cut themselves. We are shocked when someone’s child gets caught with drugs. But we shouldn’t be shocked. Even as Christians, we still have a sinful nature. That sinful nature manifests itself in many different ways. We shouldn’t be shocked when we see sin. If we are shocked, it means we haven’t come face to face with the depravity that lurks in our own hearts.

Regularly acknowledge our own sins, failures, and weaknesses. The truth is, nobody has it all together. All of us are desperate sinners in need of a mighty Savior. All of us are sick patients in need of a wise physician. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, but I sure as heck have a whole lot of other struggles.

Regularly revel in the mighty power of Jesus. We should talk about our sins and struggles, but we can’t stop there. We are weak and empty, but Jesus is mighty and full of grace. There is no struggle bigger than Jesus. There is no sin that cannot be conquered by the risen Savior. There is no failure that cannot be covered by the blood of Christ. We need to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus is bigger and better than we can imagine. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification.

Would “messy” people feel comfortable in your church? Or would they feel like there are certain struggles that they need to hide? The gospel allows us to openly confess our struggles. The gospel also gives us hope that our struggles will not define us. The gospel allows us to be “messy” and hopeful at the same time.

 Stephen has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. He is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. 

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