We're headed into the home stretch of our women's study of Esther.
I've been facilitating one of the small group discussions for the last couple of weeks. This is not an arduous task, as there are lots of questions scattered through the workbook that make for great discussion.
We did have a good discussion, and several group members contributed valuable thoughts. Overall, I really enjoyed it.
I don't want anyone to give "too-much-information" in a setting that isn't appropriate. For example, if a woman's husband is currently cheating on her (or vice versa), there are better places to try to deal with that than a small group study! Even specific marital problems that are more minor than adultery need to be handled with utmost discretion. But our PASTS are usually fertile ground for discussions that aren't quite as dicey as bringing up current problems. If someone asks "Can you think of a situation in your past in which you experienced such-and-such a spiritual phenomenon," there should be at least one or two questions that we summon the courage to tackle. Anyone who has ever experienced a good application study knows that hearing about another person's spiritual journey is tremendously helpful as we continue on our own.
I believe that we absolutely must be open with one another about our struggles, even if we are selective and appropriately discreet about what we share. A commitment to openness is mandatory, not optional, if we want to create a true Christian community.
After ten years of agnosticism, I returned to faith in part because I witnessed real Christian community and authentic spirituality. I recognized something supernatural in a number of believers I met--in some cases, in entire churches. As Luke said in yesterday's comments, there was a distinctive between these Christians I met and the rest of the world.
The hallmarks of the difference that opened my once-blind eyes were:
And this is why I'm so passionate about transparency. Yes, it's frightening. Yes, all of us have had unpleasant experiences when someone we trusted to keep our affairs private betrayed that trust. But more of us must abandon our need for "saving face," and more of us must understand that witnessing to ANYONE requires the willingness to show who we really are. Telling someone "I've received grace beyond compare" means nothing to them unless I actually explain in at least some detail how I once lived, and why I was not perfectly fine just the way I was.
I have observed a number of churches in my four recent relocations. Every one of those churches contained at least a few wonderful imitators of Christ--no church is without its great examples. But the successful, loving, transformative churches were filled with members who were transparent and humble. The unsuccessful, much-like-any-other-worldly-institution churches contained a large number of people who were not transparent and at least a few who were firmly entrenched in worldly pride.
We can't fool ourselves. Church communities are not supposed to look like the rest of life. Instead of arguing about superficial details and trying to make radical changes in our "marketing," we need to get real. Just like Kevin Roose, people will know real love and real community when they see it. So if I'm not being real, if I'm not being transparent, if I'm not loving every person who comes to my church and giving to her a servant heart and true friendship, then I am the problem with my church.