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Churches more interested in being right than honest

Let me begin by saying thank you to many of you who, having read yesterday’s blog, prayed for Leah’s healing. I’ll let you know how God answers your prayers.    Sharing that kind of tender issue used to be harder for me, but it’s gotten easier as I’ve found that the church (that’s …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Let me begin by saying thank you to many of you who, having read
yesterday’s blog, prayed for Leah’s healing. I’ll let you know how God answers your prayers. 
Sharing that kind of tender issue
used to be harder for me, but it’s gotten easier as I’ve found that the church (that’s you) so often lifts me up in response. In fact, I find that’s when I most love the church; it’s when I’m most filled with hope about the fact that love does indeed win out in the end.
Sadly, it’s not the experience most people have with the institutional church. Too many grow disenchanted and leave. For example, this guy Matt Russell, having graduated from seminary, spent nine months interviewing people who had left the church. He would call them and say: “My intention is not to invite you back to church; I want to hear what happened, how you felt, and what you wish
was different. Will you just come and tell me your story?”
The responses were fascinating and led Russell to start a ministry for people in recovery.  He wrote an article about it for leadership journal. I’ve excerpted it below :

Through these interviews, I came to see a distinct
pattern. Most people left church not because they had a deep
theological problem with something like the virgin birth or the
resurrection of Christ. They left because people in church have the
tendency to be small and mean and couldn’t deal honestly with their own
sin or the sin of others. As one man put it, “People in the church were
more invested in the process of being right than in the process of
being honest.”

One of the main populations I interviewed was people
who were in all types of recovery: from drugs, alcohol, sex addiction,
eating disorders, gambling. Their interviews were full of stories of
chronic behaviors that persisted despite confession, church attendance,
small group participation, and Bible study. Many felt that their
ministry leaders expected their behaviors to change as a result of
prayer and participating in church activities. But that just wasn’t the

As one person told me, “Just because you shellac a bunch of Jesus over your life doesn’t make it right.”

After nine months, I had conducted more than 70
interviews. I invited 30 of those people to a dinner to share with them
what I had heard and learned.

During dinner I asked, “What if we became the answer to
these problems? What if we formed a community that’s honest, that
welcomes those who feel disconnected and spiritually homeless?” These
people responded that they wanted to be part of creating a church that
would welcome those in recovery, where they could be vulnerable with
each other as a way of growing spiritually.

In the past, these individuals had to step away from
honest vulnerability in order to fit acceptability standards in the
church. Some did it for a while, until they could no longer keep the
masks in place and their addictive processes at bay. These people had
been in the church for a long time but felt like they could never get
honest when they talked with their pastor or small group leader.
So here’s my takeaway: a) Churches need to ask “Are we more interested in being right than in being honest?” and repent if the answer is “Yes.” b) Churches need to look a lot more like recovery groups.

Comments (16)

  • The interviews he did sound as if the only people leaving the institution are those who have issues and need to recover. There are so MANY who have discontinued the journey with the institution with so MANY other reasons than because they are recovering from something. The fact is the institution doesn’t work properly. Oh yes it works at some level but it is like a dysfunctional family. It is family but dysfunctional. The same with the institution called church…it is church just severely dysfunctional. check out http://www.thegodjourney.org.

  • The church has also lost many passionate, gifted people because of sexual orientation, whether their fault or ours. I know it’s a controversial issue, but one of the deepest griefs of my heart has been watching my passionate, gifted worship leading son find the “home” he needed elsewhere than the church. His story could be told a million times over, and the church has lost them all.

  • Hi Seth,

    You and I have had long conversations about this topic and in particular the manifestation of madness when “yacht club” Christians” find meaning in their power to exclude and shun. The thing about confession and repentance is it doesn’t work as Jesus intended unless you have a community committed to those disciplines. The Revolutionary Council assembled by George Barna had twelve of us wrestling with the key question: “Why are people leaving church?” While the reasons are varied what is clear is that the fundamental sense of authenticity healthy people crave is often not there. I’m reminded of that when in a social setting in Colorado Springs I dropped my metaphorical trousers among “friends” and shared some things I was struggling with and invited prayer for. Upon ending my plaintive plea I turned to the other men and women in the semi circle (people with whom there had been fellowship) and asked the question: “What about you?” Inviting a shared and mutual vulnerability from a tribe who claimed to be walking that road together I found the answer to the questionalarming. Because the response was…….


    I left believing that the only wandering bastard was me.

    Jesus has healed many wounds (self inflicted and otherwise) from that season. But the lesson has been branded on me indelibly. Too much of the clan of Christ are shallow and not willing to confess predispositions to sin.

    And when you have church or any community with “sinners” and the “others” who judge it won’t work.

    Nor should it.

  • i would say that those interviewees who had continued in willful sin were most likely “in” the church but never really part of the body-they were like so many in our churches today, false converts, who confess Christ but never depart from iniquity (matt 7:21-24, 1 john)

  • i would say that those interviewees who had continued in willful sin were most likely “in” the church but never really part of the body-they were like so many in our churches today, false converts, who confess Christ but never depart from iniquity (matt 7:21-24, 1 john)

  • Very valid perspective, but still incomplete truth.

    To be valid, the interpreter needs to do the same research on the many other people who STAY in church, and successfully grow spiritually, overcome their chronic problems and live a fruitful life. And what about those who stay out of church and do not overcome their problems? Compare the results of ALL these groups, and the conclusions will have some broader truth.

    It is all too easy to pick a subset population and find an interpretation that reinforces your personal bias. It does not mean the fix will help them anymore than the institutionalized version. Just as the church is often a case of the blind leading the blind, so to, he is probably following the same pattern, just from the other perspective.

  • Jean, I couldn’t agree with you more!

    When I was in youth group growing up my youth pastor told me that AIDS was God’s way of eliminating sin & the homosexuals. Since we lived in a small community and my sister was openly a lesbian, this hurt me more than I could ever express in words.

    And to Eugene, I accepted God in my life when I was 15 and was baptized. My experience was sincere and I truly had a heart to follow Him. However, I had no idea how. When I was baptized the church rallied around me but afterwards they disappeared and I was left feeling confused and wondering how in the world to follow Jesus! Because of that, I continued in “willful” sin. Years later, by the grace of God, I have been figuring out what it means to truly follow Jesus. But I wouldn’t call my experience a “false conversion”. I can tell you with all honesty that I had a sincere heart for God. And through my “willful sin” period and my period of confusion, God lovingly protected me in so many ways. I guess my point is just that many times churches seem more concerned about “eternal life” instead of teaching you how to lead an “abundant life” in Christ. I think we can do a better job!

  • Discipleship and care ministry go together, can’t do one without the other. I am one of those people who walked into a church years ago searching and loaded down with my “junk” – broken, lost, hurting…wearing the sins of my past like a heavy coat of shame. This particular church had a care/recovery group ministry that I got involved in. It was a ministry where people were real and where I was allowed to share my stuff, feel it. Next, I was held accountable to deal with my stuff and others walked alongside me through the process. Then, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ I was able to heal and then grow in my relationship with Him. I eventually became a leader in this care/recovery group ministry and walked with others along their broken road. I couldn’t open up my heart to Jesus until I first dealt with my “junk”. This church care ministry got it right. Check out an organization that helps churches to develop care/recovery group ministries: http://www.lifecarechristiancenter.org.

  • Andrew’s point is a good one and we also need to temper our assessment of any single “study” by remembering that there is no such thing as an “omnibus study” of human spiritual behavior and the functioning of a “church”.

    Like medical tests each analysis will yield a part of the picture. A fragment.

    For whatever it is worth, I have found great joy and healing by mostly putting myself in the company of authentic, real and non self-promotional followers of Jesus. If they aren’t willing to share their pain, mistakes and sin (as I do freely now) there is no point to the relationship. I’ve had “friends” who quietly and secretly struggle with prescription drug abuse, lust, greed, anger,gossip,slander and a host of other deadly sins. But they don’t admit that. And we can’t fellowship on anything but a superficial level anymore. And that is a waste of time among other things.

    There is freedom in acknowledging a broken place in life. Mine has been a lack of trust that Jesus would take away the pains of existence which were real. Sexual abuse. Affairs by a spouse. A genetic illness killing my family. An angry father who would beat on occasion when frustration overwhelmed him. We all have a story. So I sought sinful relief far too often in the abuse of alcohol. Mostly good red wines. Cabernet’s in particular. That hurt my children, an ex wife, friends, family and me. But it mostly hurt the One friend who I neglected the most. Unfortunately He became used to such friends in His solitary sojourn on this earth. Because they weren’t real either on many occasions.

    Jesus carefuly investigates our scars and open wounds… dips into his waist bag for a handful of the Balm of Gilead… and lovingly applies it to tattered hearts and blistered souls.

    And we are freeagain.

    I’m not looking for any church, book, conference or DVD to “fix me”.

    I am exclusively searching for the tribe of the committed, compassionate and caring. And I’m finding them just like a hiker in a dense wood who comes to a clearing and discovers”I was never alone”.

  • Most churches – often unwittingly – give off the aura that once you deal with the junk you came in with, you’re mostly ok – it’s just tinkering around the edges, with the so-called “smaller” sins after that. But that is not the case at all. It’s only with a band of authentic friends willing to be real with you in crisis that sometimes you discover all that’s still broken … and that is a constant journey as we are all discovering new things every season. Once one area is taken care of, it won’t be long before God turns up the light and shows us yet another area of deep need. I am only now getting into the world of sex abuse and sex/love/relationship addiction. I can promise you, most churches (but not all) are ill-equipped to deal with THAT on any kind of basis, much less a holistic, caring one. I attended a wonderful church when I lived in Northern VA – but a church only knows the sum total of what its leadership and members have been through. It could have been doing a lot more in terms of recovery groups – but it would have taken members like me to step up to the plate and ask for it, to take it on as “our ministry.” But at the time, I didn’t have that “light” from God turned on to my need yet. For the most part, churches are only as honest as their members are willing to be about themselves (and yes, leadership can either cultivate or squash that, depending on where they are). Like us, they are imperfect, dysfunctional institutions. Hmm… most of the time more interested in being right than being honest 🙂 … Amazing that God ever decided to entrust His plan for the ages to a band of people like us, isn’t it?

  • Russell’s comments are full of truth. Imagine the inevitable transformation if those basic principles were followed. Progress is virtually impossible without honesty and vulnerablity.

    brother Bruce

  • I just read response #5 from Butch. He is right on and even more clear than Russell!

    brother Bruce

  • There are some amazing, honest, open responses on this subject which I know God is hearing.

    The original sin ” you will be like God knowing good and evil” surfaces even more in those who start going to church.With studying the word of God comes a more accute understanding of “The rights and wrongs” but unfortunatly this does not always go hand in hand with the ” encourage one another and love one another (and that includes loving correction). Instead what you see is a very judgemental attitude, this is seen less of in non christians.

    I tend to spend more time with non christians than christians and see there is a much more accepting attitude from non christians than the majority that attend church.

    I do have a group of honest christians that get together outside of church, those you can be real with and do not judge.

    If you feel judge by christians then guard your heart because something is not right. That attitude has a very sinister root that is not Godly. This is different from being with people who respond without any hint of judging but just a total open, loving acceptance (even after you have just shared your deepest darkest sinful nature to them!)

    Church should be about helping one another when we fall down (and we will!) its about pulling the arrows out of each others back that the enemy has just thrown at us. Its about recognising that this race that we are running is a daily task of cleaning up our lives from the enemy to be changed “from glory to glory”.I agree totally with what Jodi Gemma said, God shining His light onto the next thing…then the next thing….its never ending as God untangles the complete webb of sin that our lives were born into and we have lived with since before we got saved.And if we go off the rails its back to the operating table again, not just a quick sorry as God again untangles the mess we get into if we submit to satan again.

    God has been speaking to me recenly about church and has asked me ” to cast my bread upon the waters” (or take a risk as my footnotes say).

    The things that have frustrated me in the past regarding church He has now challenged me. One thing I hated was the “falseness”. You go along on a Sunday morning, most people pretending to be Holy and then after a few hours you go home. You might be lucky if you get invited into someones home for dinner but again, its all organised and “staged”.I also struggle with the timing of it all. What if God decides to turn up 5 mins from the end? People have dinners to go home to, shopping to do, tea and coffe rota on the end etc.

    So this is what the Lord has asked me to do. He has asked me to set aside one day for Him. A whole day, not a morning, or an evening but the whole day. He wants me to open my doors and say to people ” if you are ever at a loose end pop round for coffee, or lunch or dinner or even breakfast…no need to phone, the door is open ALL day. You will find us as we are, a house full of kids doing our daily stuff, no pretense, no “getting ready for our guest” or putting on an act for a few hours.

    If people just want to chat they are welcome, if they just want to sit and “be” in a house that is family then they can. If they want prayer or a time of worship we are there to join them.

    God has asked me to do it for one day but I know the one day will turn into a way of life. A new church, honest, open, real, that will spread throughout this city.It will give God the freedom to make “divine appointments” as different people turn up at the same time who God wanted to join together. It will give God the freedom to move at whatever time He wanted and for how ever long He wants to. It will give people the freedom to be led by the spirit and turn up when they feel it is right for them.

    I know that once this takes off, people will know they are loved and accepted for who there are and are welcome to join us ANY day of the week. Those “social” barriers that stop you turning up on someones doorstep when you are in desperate need should go out the window. It will be all about REAL relationships and honesty in the presence of a Holy God.

    When I first became a christian the church I was in was very similar to this way of thinking. Those friendship I made then still remain. Although most of us split up and headed off all over the UK whenever we meet our hearts are still intertwined, they are still family and there is always a real openess that I do not see very often in churches today. As christians we can make a difference. I cannot change what is wrong with the churches I see in my city (although I have tried). But I can obey what God is saying to me know and make a new wine skin ready for the new wine to be poured into.

  • I think that spiritual abuse is the hardest abuse to heal from because it wounds to the very core of our identity as created beings.

    This is a short clip from Matt Chandler explaining a church hurt and ends with the perfect path to healing. It’s on Youtube and called, “Jesus Wants the Rose”.

    I’ve had to apologize more than once for the sermon or the response of a church person who ended up condemning rather than healing a visitor. It’s very difficult to find words which make any difference in those situations.

    Here is the link:

    Jesus WANTS the rose…

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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