Friday 22, May 2015
By Christian Piatt
The most recent Pew forum study,
which show that numbers of people identifying with any brand of
Christianity is still in decline, should surprise no one. But as is the
case any time such a study comes out, Christians are looking for reasons
By now we know a lot of the basic reasons: people are
busier, they are more mobile, there's less social stigma about not going
to church, folks don't trust us, etc. But I'm interested in looking at
it from three different perspectives, rather than just from the inside
of Christianity. After all, there's far more at play here than just
Christians not practicing what they preach.
Christians never will be perfect, so why do we pretend otherwise?
There's always a big headline whenever a church leader falls from
grace. From Robert Tilton and Ted Haggard to Mark Driscoll, they all
fall, sooner or later, it seems. And yes, part of the problem is that
power corrupts, and church leaders perhaps more than anyone else are too
often given carte blanche authority to do what they feel is right.
Unlimited trust plus unlimited power -- regardless of the person at the
focus -- is a recipe for big trouble.
But corruption isn't the only problem. The bigger problem is honesty.
not just talking about leaders lying about their transgressions. I mean
that all Christians, as a whole, have a tendency to promote a false
veneer of flawlessness to the world, as if somehow once you are a
Christian, your hair is perennially straight, teeth are white, and your
bodily functions magically smell like roses.
I really appreciate
the approach fellow author/blogger Nadia Bolz Weber takes when talking
to a newcomer to her Denver congregation. Inevitably, no matter who they
are or where they come, a newcomer goes through what we call a
"Honeymoon Phase" at any church, where (like in any new relationship)
they only see the good in the church, in the pastor, and so on. And a
leader who is not onto themselves will play into that, because it feels
good. But it's not real, and it's a setup for disaster.
In her interview with Krista Tippet for "On Being,"
she explains what she says to anyone newly in love with the church.
"I'm glad you love it here," she says "but...at some point, I will
disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this
side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick
around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God's grace
comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And it's too
beautiful to miss. Don't miss it."
Three things happen in this
disclosure. First, it helps to set more realistic expectations, both for
the church leader and the congregation as a whole. Second, it brings
the pastor down off a pedestal where they never should have been in the
But third, and most important, it redirects
everyone's attention toward the opportunity for Grace to enter in. After
all, why look for grace, support and healing if we are still trying to
convince ourselves we're perfect? And if Church does anything beyond
bringing people together for mutual accountability, support and to help
bear witness to each others' lives, it should redirect our individual
and collective attention away from ourselves and toward something bigger
From our church signs to our "evangelism" efforts, we're
so focused on what others need to be more like us, that we don't spend
half as much energy or time vulnerably and honestly sharing our own
imperfections and messed-up-ness with others. Why do that? Because it
assures people we're no better than they are, that, they're not alone,
and that we all need each other, and just maybe, God.
that, when we admit we actually really suck sometimes, it assures people
they can actually trust us, which is far more important than earning
their short-lived admiration.
Find out more about Christian Piatt's work at ChristianPiatt.com.
Follow Christian Piatt on Twitter: