In his interview for the documentary, Shamed, Daniel Weiss said something that has stuck with me:
“The final obstacle to Christian community is the inability to be sinners together.”
It is so true, and at the same time shouldn’t be. After all, the Christian community is a community of sinners. That is the one thing that is true about anyone—we’ve all sinned. We’ve all messed up. We’ve all done things we wish no one else needed to know about.
Still, that reality is often the last thing we talk about in our churches. We frequently discuss and confess the “Christian sins” like not reading our Bible for an hour every day, or forgetting to pray for the candy bar we ate on the way home from work. The reality is, we are messy people, living messy lives, in desperate need of a grace that cleans up messes!
It is vitally important to the health of the body of Christ that we are a community that openly dialogues about grace. Of course, we don’t have a problem with grace. We even sing about grace. Most of us would be happy if it stayed there—in a song. Putting it into practice is much more difficult, and is, frankly, not something we do well.
Over the past few months, I have worked with different groups wanting to start up support groups for women struggling with sexual brokenness. I am a huge supporter of the idea. Being able to go into a community, start the conversation about female porn addiction and leave knowing that the conversation will continue just delights my heart. From those few leadership training sessions, though, I have gleaned some insight into why it is so difficult for us to be a community of grace.
Obstacles to Grace-Filled Community
Time. We all have 24 hours every day, but most of us consider ourselves fortunate if we can carve out a consecutive 8-hour slot for sleep. Dealing with sinners, addicts especially, requires an investment of time. I try to emphasize this when I travel and speak—this is not a one-time thing. You do not resolve deep-rooted sin issues in a weekend retreat. This is going to take days, weeks, and months.
We just don’t have that kind of time, so it is easier to cram all of our grace into a Sunday morning service and small group meeting. We simply are not available at any other time.
Agenda. As a general rule, the church has become very program-oriented. We like things to be nice and tidy, to follow a predetermined timeline of events. All of our meetings, studies, and groups follow a set goal-oriented structure. Goals are great, and structure is great, but scheduling out the Holy Spirit is not.
Did I mention that sin is messy? The problem with sin being messy is that it has depths and effects that we had no idea were there! Perhaps the woman struggling with lust was a victim of rape or abuse. Now, there’s a whole new realm of pain, and she might not be ready for homework assignment #3 quite yet. She might just need some time and space to heal.
Perhaps another woman needs a one-on-one coffee date to answer questions too detailed and too complex for the group. Maybe another has trust issues so crippling that the idea of continually meeting in a group setting overwhelms her. Still another faced a fierce battle with temptation and fell—hard. Are these situations met with understanding and compassion or are these women berated for not finishing the “assignment” or contributing to the group?
Expectations. Like it or not, we all have expectations of others and of ourselves. People may expect their leaders to be perfect or to have all the answers. We expect them to tow the line. We expect them to lighten up. We expect them to keep structure. We expect them to be flexible. We expect them to be good examples. We expect them to be real. We expect them to know what’s going. We expect them to stay out of our business. Our individual expectations of what a leader should be or what a group should look like can greatly hinder our ability to function within said group or under said leaders.
Beyond that, leaders can have expectations of themselves or what they feel a leader should be.
Building a Grace-Filled Community
All of this falls away though, when we look at the life and ministry of Christ. If we are supposed to be His hands and feet to a lost and dying world, then we need to be figuring out how He ministered to people. When it came to time, we more often than not see Him needing to schedule time for Himself. This shows us that time to ourselves, to recharge in prayer and rest, is important. However, it also shows us how reversed our priorities can be. Many of us, instead of spending our time ministering to others, spend our time addressing our own needs and casual desires. We pencil in time for people here and there.
As far as agenda, ours is the same as Christ. Our ‘agenda’ as Christians exceeds the latest Bible study or workbook on sexual addiction. We are not striving to finish a class and award a certificate. Our goal and heartfelt desire should be to see people restored to a right relationship with God—whatever that means. We all come from different places of brokenness, so while our ultimate goal is always the same, our journeys are going to look different.
Then there are expectations. From the beginning, Christ has used imperfect people to accomplish His mission. His closest companions consisted of men with fiery tempers, shoddy backgrounds, and calloused hearts. He sent many of those same men out on a mission to bring the world to Him—those same men who argued over who would be greatest, who deserted Him, who betrayed Him, who denied Him. Those same men—sinners—He sent out as His lights of hope and life into a world needing both.
He does the same today. He saves sinners. He calls those sinners to minister to other sinners in order to bring sinners into a right relationship with Him. From the pew to the pulpit to the pauper on the street, every last one of us is broken and in need of a Saviour. When we realize that, and allow ourselves to “be sinners together,” that is where we find hope, healing, and grace.