We were having our team meeting and, as always in recent times, one of the items for discussion was our Generations Project. Someone asked what the younger generation wanted of the Church. A few of us gave various versions of “be real”. Therein lay the rub…generations have grown up with a church culture that celebrates stoicism and sacrifice, because we’ve been called to “put the world behind us” and to be single-minded in reaching the lost. Both of these are excellent goals to pursue and, indeed, what we must do and be.
But our Sunday faces don’t cut it anymore. We can’t continue to run on empty and hope that the Holy Spirit will kick in to pick up the slack when our platitudes don’t meet real needs and our one-liners don’t address the hurt. I have no doubts that our Triune God can more than meet all the deepest cares of the world with a snap of His fingers. But He has also chosen to allow us the privilege of working alongside Him; to be His hands of comfort, his feet of journeying alongside, and His face of love. So why are we not taking it seriously?
Occasionally, when I’m not needing to concentrate on editing or writing, but am doing something manual and repetitive like packing books for mailing out, I get to enjoy singing along to music while I work. A recent playlist had a song with the following lyrics:
Lie number one: You’re supposed to have it all together
And when they ask how you’re doin’, just smile and tell them, “Never better”
Lie number two: Everybody’s life is perfect except yours
So keep your messes and your wounds and your secrets safe with you behind closed doors
But truth be told
The truth is rarely told, no…*
Oh.my.goodness! That really hit home. If you want to hear the rest of this song by Matthew West, go look up “Truth Be Told” in your favourite music streaming app. Whether you’re a pastor who doesn’t think he needs others speaking into his life, or someone shackled in the dungeon of your mind because “there’s no way God can forgive my sin”, the truth needs to be told so that you can be set free.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it
When bein’ honest is the only way to fix it
There’s no failure, no fall
There’s no sin You don’t already know
So let the truth be told*
But there is another half to this equation. What will we do when the truth is told? We have the privilege of holding it tenderly and loosening the grip of the lies that keep the sin alive. I loved it when Frederick Buechner devoted a whole chapter to “The Subterranean Grace of God”, inspired by French novelist, François Mauriac,
…who said of Graham Greene that he, in his books, dealt with a subterranean presence of grace. (The Remarkable Ordinary, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017], 62)
We need to draw from the motherlode of that subterranean grace of God so that people can be safe when they share their “truths” with us. Is the Church ready to do that?
I recently met a young lady who said that it’s “all cr%@” when the older people are quick to judge and condemn without first finding out the truth of the matter. Or, they say one thing in church and then proceed to do something totally opposite in their personal lives or at work. She couldn’t continue to stomach the hypocrisy and chose to stay away from the institutional church. Fortunately, she found good feeding from the wide choices available now for virtual church services. But it still means that she doesn’t have that safe space to be real and to taste God’s subterranean grace. And both young and old won’t be able to build bridges that can lead to better understanding and mutual growth.
One of several good things that have come out of the 2020 pandemic is the need to meet in smaller groups. Talk about God working good out of a bad situation! Without downplaying the negative consequences of Covid-19—death, depression, loneliness, spousal abuse, loss of livelihoods—we have also seen the rise of heroes (often unsung). People who have sacrificially shared their time and resources, themselves really, so that others can find help and hope. Because we have to meet in smaller groups, we also get to go deeper, to know the real people behind the Sunday faces.
And, just maybe, we’ll realise that the listening ear we provide is a lifeline for someone else. The grumpy old man who usually sits in the second pew from the front is a war hero who lost everything when a fire razed his whole kampung (village). All he has now is his dignity and a few meagre belongings that go with him wherever he can find a place to shelter for the night. But, oh, the stories he could tell you of bravery and courage, and of his God who never let him go. And when you find the time to share a simple meal with him, you may be poorer by a few dollars, but you would have grown richer in your spirit because you invested time to be real.
The young girl who is often sitting a bit further from everyone during Bible Study may not be the sullen and unresponsive person you think she is. Perhaps she’s petrified that you’ll ask her to answer a question that she hasn’t a clue about because she can’t afford to buy a Bible. And she can’t even download a free e-Bible because she doesn’t own a smartphone. How will you know, if you’ve condemned her without investing time to let her be real?
* Matthew West, “Truth Be Told”, single released in a joint venture between his imprint Story House Music and Provident Label Group/Sony Music.