Dwelling Worship Series, week 3 — CONFIDENCE
November 18, 2018
About ten years ago, Barna released, unChristian, a book unpacking years of interviews and research with 16 to 29-year-old non-believers. Through their research, Barna hoped to learn about what perceptions this group had of Christians and the church; and the results were pretty staggering. Two of the overwhelming perceptions held by this group were that Christians are judgmental and hypocritical, not practicing the love and grace that Jesus modeled.
While we would like to think that things have changed over the past ten years, and we’ve learned from some of this research, I think we still have a vulnerability and authenticity problem. Last week, I shared some of my research around needed practices for the fulfillment of our denominational mission statement of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” One major barrier in most of the congregations was the inability to freely share struggles and be vulnerable to share stories of brokenness. Through private, online surveys, even those who had been quite active in the church for years, revealed their hesitancy to share aspects of their past or current temptations. If shame and fear of judgement is real among leaders in our church, how can we expect those outside our congregations to be willing to bring all of themselves to our faith communities?
While presiding at Communion over the years, my two favorite lines of the liturgy to pronounce are, “Once we were no people, but now we are your people,” and “Free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ.” Verse 22 tells us that because of Jesus, we can be certain that our sins are washed away and our conscience can be clean. Why is this so hard to believe? What inhibits us from fully feeling free?
Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability can be quite helpful in shifting this culture that prevents us from overcoming our negative stereotypes and realities and living as witnesses to the power of Jesus. Shame is an epidemic in our culture that corrodes that part of us that believes we can change. Shame undermines our intrinsic worth and value by telling us that those things we regret and eat us up define us. It wasn’t the actions that were bad. We are bad. And so we do everything we can to hide who we think we are. For women, shame is grounded in the inability to meet all of the competing, conflicting expectations we feel. We try to be all things to all people, but can’t. For men, shame manifests from the fear of being seen as weak. As I think about politics, the latest newsfeed, and social media, most of what makes airspace and cyberspace is a result of trying to overcome Brown’s definitions of shame.
Jesus came to free us from the chains of shame and created the church as a place for us to be vulnerable and challenge one another in love. Regularly, we all still sin and fall short of who God desires us to be; but through vulnerability and accountability, we can hold the things we’ve done up to who we want to be without letting those things define or paralyze us.
One congregation in my study was an outlier regarding vulnerability and authenticity. It’s a newer, urban congregation, comprised of Gen Xers and millennials. Sharing testimony and how Jesus has made a difference in their lives is a regular part of worship. All the members are also assigned to small groups, where each week they share their struggles and failures, and pray for one another. Hmm…small-group accountability…I think this might be a part of our Wesleyan DNA. Vulnerability and authenticity seeks and leads to connection. There’s a reason why the “authentic” and “real” theologians and pastors have such a following. In our culture riddled with loneliness, the church grounded in Jesus Christ and the leading of the Holy Spirit is the greatest hope.
Questions to consider:
- How are you creating a culture of authenticity and vulnerability in your congregation?
- Do the people sitting before you each Sunday morning come wearing their “Sunday faces,” or are there places and spaces to wrestle with all that life threw at them the previous week?
- How does your congregation engage in Wesleyan discipleship?
- How are you helping your children and youth to avoid the trappings of shame and claim their primary worth as children of God?
- What would it mean for the congregation to be “freed for joyful obedience”?
Rev. Dr. Heather Heinzman Lear serves as the Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN. She regularly works with local congregations, districts, annual conferences, seminaries, and ecumenical bodies to provide training and resources on evangelism and discipleship in the 21st Century. She holds degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Boston University. Heather is an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference, and previously pastored three local churches. She is grateful for the support of her husband, and the heart of her 10-year-old son, who constantly reminds her of what the Kingdom of God looks like.