When we envision the kind of church that we want to attend, we often envision clean bathrooms, plush seating, and incredibly sophisticated music performances. We often see the church of our dreams as being made up of people that look like us, talk like us, and have our same economic and social background. When it comes down to it, our vision for the perfect church is to have a church that looks like us and talks like us. The more comfortable, the better.
When we stop and consider the kind of church that Jesus would lead, we see something different. If we’re honest, we might even admit that we don’t want to be a part of the church that Jesus would lead because the kind of church that Jesus would lead is, well, messy. Jesus’ church is messy. The bathrooms are dirty. The seats are broken or non-existent. The people that are a part of Jesus’ community are diverse and from a wide variety of walks of life. Some of them are prostitutes. Some of them are former prostitutes. Some of them are drug addicts or constantly drunk. Others sold drugs and are now loving the lives of those whom they used to destroy. There are sick people who have diseases that are “gross” and “dirty.” There are children running around everywhere. Tears abound where grace abounds. And there is a lot of anger and frustration, but Jesus keeps making all things new.
It’s enough to inspire the dirtiest and worst of sinners and enough to enrage the most self-righteous in any church.
A few of us are trying to figure out how we can be faithful, effective, gracious, and loving pastors to communities that are full of broken people. For some of us, long gone are the early plans of pastoring churches full of healthy people with no problems. For others, there is a strong desire to reach the world around us, despite the constant rejection of Christianity because it is too judgmental, too right-wing political, too hypocritical, and way too homophobic. What are we to make of the times we are in? Is Jesus’ church supposed to be easy and comfortable or is the kingdom of God where the rule and reign breaks into our world and creates a broken and fragmented community?
In order to explore and interact on these issues, we’re excited to start a new focus – messy church. We look forward to your thoughts as we attempt to engage Scripture, experience, culture, and a wide variety of other influences.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
I agree with much of what you right here. I just throw this out these for discussion. A messy church should also be a maturing church. While no church has been or ever will be perfect, they should be progressing. This is where I think Deyoung’s Hole in Our Holiness fits in this discussion. Too many have fallen to the side of mess up, dirty people without balancing that with straightened up holy people. We can change. By grace through faith smothered in a whole lot of love, we can change. Am I reading too much into your post?
A church that is constantly pregnant and delivering babies is going to be unorganized and messy though don’t you think Judd? Growing up one generation within the church is great because we can expect them to mature but the babies in our churches need to ALWAYS feel comfortable and valued. So anyone could come into a messy church and say it is not maturing based on the MESS that sin, brokenness etc… makes but I could probably point to the fact that they are just raising kids… and hopefully they are in that state forever. But I have not read Deyoung’s book so maybe this is what he is getting at..
Judd, I’d pretty much agree with what Able is saying regarding the overall atmosphere of the kind of church I am envisioning.
For me, the concept of health is a good one to begin with. I think in a lot of conservative evangelical churches that concept equates to an ethos that in actuality is more about having the appearance of being put together well… and less to do with true holiness or health.
I know that I plan on writing on this topic more as we continue, and I know Able will too. You’d be welcome to throw your thoughts together as you get a feel for what we’re thinking too!
I guess I think it is perfectly viable to be both simultaneously a mature church as well as a messy church. Or, as Luther said: Simul Justus et Peccator.
I think this is the type of church that Jesus was/is building. A place where people who have been saved by the grace of God respond by progressively becoming more and more like him. Yet they accept those who have not been apprehended by that grace yet in a way that is inviting and less judgmental. They don’t condone sin but have a “big picture” understanding of salvation and are less concerned with getting people to appear holy on the outside and more concerned with people being transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit from the inside out.
And I believe a lot of this comes down to methodology, to be quite frank. ha ha.
See this is where DeYoung and Co (myself included) take heat for going down this road. I never said anything about acceptance or appearance. I cannot stand the buttoned up look on the outside and inside clutter, that’s hypocrisy. I am one myself and minister to others who are messed up and in need of maturing. No one ever said “I have arrived.” But let’s not overlook 2 Peter 1:3-11 (esp v8) and Hebrews 12:14. It’s easier to push left than right (http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/pushing-right-pushing-left)
My point is balance. We cannot take only part of the Gospels and see the incredible patience adn tenderness Jesus shows to the slow learning disciples and the lost AND NOT take the same guy’s comments, how about “oh you of little faith” (on anxiety Matthew 6) When’s the last time you used that with someone anxious about life, if not why not, Jesus did? Are we (I am including myself here) more “sensitive” than Jesus? Or how about “foolish and slow of heart to believe” (Jesus’ response to the the phrase “we had hoped in…” in Luke 24). Jesus calls his disciples “evil” when talking about prayer. Try that from the pulpit when speaking on persistence in intercession.
Piper said it best in his book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, ““Especially offensive to
the modern, western sentiment, is the tough, blunt fierce form of Jesus’ love. People with thin skin would have
often felt hurt by Jesus’ piercing tongue. People who identify love only with soft
tender words and ways would have been repeatedly outraged by the stinging,
almost violent, language of the Lord…The condition of the human heart will lead
to eternal punishment for those who do not receive the remedy Christ brought.
Therefore Jesus spared no delicate feelings in warning against hell.” P. 93, 96
Able, I’d encourage you to read DeYoung’s book and Luke this is balance I think is absolutely needed after reading Tullian’s Jesus Plus Nothing…
Be messy, welcome the unwelcome, have a big picture long term view of sanctification (wider war, deeper war, more subtle war – that’s Powlison) AND make progress in purity, unity, advances in faith adding excellence, self control, knowledge, kindness and love.
It’s about speaking the truth in love and using methods to help people mature, why else are we feeding the sheep (John 21)?
Hopefully you realize that I’m not suggesting YOU are a hypocrite or purposely encourage hypocritical ministry and/or living. I’m certainly not. I have not been a part of your ministry of know enough to make those types of statements.
There is a balance. That’s what I think I’m attempting to bring out.
I have spent nearly my entire life in conservative evangelical churches. I hear a lot of talk about not wanting to have our standards equate to appearances but have seen quite a bit that sure seems to indicate the exact opposite. That’s been my experience in churches that range from Southern Baptist to Assembly of God, from non-denominational to Vineyard, from Arminian to Reformed… we talk a lot about having communities of grace and yet everything we say and do communicates the exact opposite.
There is certainly a balance here. I am just willing to bet that few people who are accused of being Antinomian are, in fact, actually pushing for that. I’m certainly not an advocate of the thinking within the “Free Grace” movement (e.g., Chafer), as I find more in common with “Lordship Salvation” (e.g., MacArthur). Yet I’m not trying to put the cart in front of the horse.
So in the same way that you may think that I’m assuming you are asking for hypocritical outward appearance type of “holiness,” I think you would be misunderstanding our (Able and me’s) intention if you thought that we were saying “live however you want because your lifestyle doesn’t matter.”
Are all conservative evangelical churches guilty of the problems I’ve seen and experienced? Absolutely not! Yet in my experience I have seen more of it than not, and I’m afraid that it is hurting missional praxis.
So the point of “Messy Church” is to explore how we can be both simultaneously saint and sinner. How in the world does that flesh out? What does it look like? What did Luther mean? How does Jesus help us understand this?
You yourself wrote,
That’s exactly what I’d suggest too. In a sense, our congregation says, “Come as you are and change with us.”