One of the advantages of my work is that I get to visit many different churches each year – both in the US and globally. What is interesting to me is the continuum between churches with great personal transparency and those where such transparency is both lacking and most likely not safe. For some reason it is OK to struggle with sin and the issues of life prior to salvation but once saved, most evangelicals feel that they need to live up to some standard or culture that prevents honest transparency on issues that would actually aid in the process of sanctification.
It has often been said that if you want to get honesty go to the local bar rather than the local church. That is a sad commentary where it is true.
What sets such churches apart from the norm? I would suggest that there are several key factors.
First, these churches have pastors and staff who value transparency and model it themselves. There is nothing more powerful than honest transparency from the pulpit. Like all organizational culture, this starts with a leader who communicates grace, acknowledges their own place in their spiritual journey and examples from their own lives. The more appropriate transparency there is from the pulpit the more transparent the culture of the congregation.
Second, transparent congregations tell many honest stories of life transformation. It takes one story, for instance from a couple who have struggled in their marriage and found healing and restoration to make it permissible for others who are struggling to admit their need for healing as well. Multiply those stories across the wide range of struggles people face and the healing that Christ brings. All of us, after all are on a journey of healing and spiritual formation. Telling stories of God’s grace makes that journey from brokenness to wholeness normative and expected. People need to be know and encouraged that God can take their brokenness and redeem it no matter how broken they are.
Finally, these are congregations that understand and major on grace. We often focus on the need for grace to come to Christ. The truth is we need as much grace after salvation as before. We need grace every moment of every day. We cannot live up to God’s expectations – or our own – unless we are living in the power of God’s Spirit and daily appropriating His grace. The church is a place for broken people, those who are broken and need Christ and those who know Christ and need wholeness.
Grace filled congregations are also humble congregations. They do not pretend to have it all together. They have leaders who admit their sin and live in dependence on God rather than in pride or self sufficiency.
Church cultures like all organizational cultures are either accidental or deliberately created. A culture of grace and transparency can be deliberately developed. Grace and transparency encourage vulnerability and vulnerability is the first step toward growth. The church should bethe premier place where we can journey from brokenness to wholeness.