Have you ever heard a bad sermon? Me, too. (It’s possible, however remotely, that I may have even given a bad sermon once.) The hands-down worst sermon I ever heard was for an Easter Sunday. On a beautiful California morning, sanctuary filled with flowers and worshipers, the pastor got up and told the congregation that the music director had died. He let this go on for a bit as the gathered faithful sat in stunned grief and shock. Then the pastor brought out the music director, smiling and quite alive, to demonstrate the joy of life after death. Instead of the intended joy, the congregation was dismayed, appalled, and angry at the stunt. Happy Easter!
Let’s be honest. The Church is not filled with perfect people — or perfect pastors. (This I know.) The Church is filled with broken people seeking wholeness and truth, and broken people sometimes say things they wish they hadn’t, act in ways they wish they hadn’t, and, on occasion, preach a less than perfect sermon. Still, there is no perfect organization or perfect person. I fail, I am imperfect. You fail, and you are imperfect. Now what?
Let’s continue to be honest. I know some of you reading this, maybe even many of you (or others you know), have been hurt by a church, a churchgoer, or a pastor. Maybe that hurt caused you to back away from regular church attendance, or maybe you quit church altogether. If this sounds a little bit like you, or like someone you know, then I ask you now to think a second time. Notice, I said “think” a second time, not emote. Emotions are a valuable gift from God, but emotions are unreliable when it comes to decision-making.
Think about it: if you go to a doctor who misdiagnoses your pain, you don’t say, “I’m finished with doctors forever!” Or if a contractor did a lousy job on your house, you don’t say, “That’s it, I am never hiring anyone again.” You rightly identify those responses as irrational and emotional. Emotions say, “Never again!” but the mind says, “Let’s think dispassionately before responding.” The answer, of course, to bad doctors is good doctors, the answer to a bad contractor is a good contractor who can fix the previous mess, and the answer to a bad church is a good church and a good pastor who can help fix the previous mess.
Perhaps you are still saying, “But Christians just seem like such hypocrites. They proclaim one thing and then do another.” First, let’s be clear. The word “hypokrisis” is of Greek origin and it means “play acting’ or “deceit.” A Christian who is truly play acting in their faith is not a Christian. Honest Christians who strive but fail to perfectly live up to the example of Jesus Christ are not hypocrites. They are human, and so are you. Consider whether you lived up perfectly today to every ideal you hold. Were you genuinely as good as you could have been, were your words pristine, your actions immaculate? Adhering to values, morals, and ideals is necessary to being human, but failing to be perfect in living those ideals is human brokenness, imperfection, not hypocrisy.
God blessed each of us with a mind capable of thought, logic, and reason. Emotions add seasoning to life, but the mind is the steak. Emotions say, “I’m outta here,” but the mind says, “What might I truly lose if I leave?” God sees our brokenness, our imperfection, our sin, and
offers each of us grace and forgiveness. We experience the imperfection in others. Might we also think more about extending grace and forgiveness to others?
I recognize your skepticism, I resonate with your disappointment, I empathize with your hurt, and yet, the imperfect Church with its imperfect people stands ready to welcome imperfect you to find wholeness and truth. A healthy, well-balanced, Spirit-filled church quenches dry and brittle existence with refreshing and life-giving water. Welcome back to the well.