Thursday, March 15, 2012
New Church Dress Code: Midriffs
After I cleaned the lent out, I went on to explain how ridiculous it is to walk around pretending to be bellybuttonless and that it is equally ridiculous to walk around pretending to be sinless. That day I challenged the student body to practice authenticity. Nothing really changed, because practicing authenticity and transparency is extremely difficult and many times it is most difficult among fellow Christians. Too often Christian communities foster an atmosphere that encourages layered clothing instead of midriffs. And yet, I believe Jesus intended the Church to have midriff uniforms. Here are three things I believe churches should do to foster an authentic and transparent environment.
1. Recenter regularly on the cross. The cross reminds us that no matter how many layers of clothes we throw on the bellybutton is still there. Even if we putty it over...the putty will eventually crack and fall out. Sometimes Christians seem to compete to see who needs Christ the least. This fosters "layered environments." For this reason, Churches must recenter regularly on the cross. The cross reminds us that Jesus did what we could and can never do. The cross reminds us that our identity in Christ is based on his work and not ours. When we hide our present struggles, failures, and sins we are claiming that that human perception is more powerful than Christ's death. When we wear masks we confess a weak view of the cross. As Chuck Swindoll said, "All ground is level at the foot of the cross." If the cross accomplished what scripture claims then your sin does not define you, Jesus does. When we truly believe this and accept this (trust me, this is a difficult journey) it frees us toward authenticity and transparency. Keep preaching the cross.
2. Leadership Leads. It has been my long-held belief, in spite of ministry courses teaching the contrary, that leaders should model authenticity and transparency. Although discretion is necessary, I believe, outside of a good understanding of the cross, that the number one factor in creating a transparent and authentic community is when the leadership models it. When a leader stands up and shares openly about her/his struggles the congregation sighs, "It is okay to be real here." Transparency can be extremely difficult for leaders because they are encouraged, more than anyone, to layer their clothes! [Read with sarcasm] - "We all know leaders are leaders because they don't have bellybuttons." Leaders within congregations should work together brainstorming and praying over various ways to model authenticity and transparency.
In college I had an opportunity to speak at the most highly attended campus devotional. I would be in a position of leadership for one night. The month before it was my turn to speak I felt God calling me to be honest and transparent about certain struggles I was having at that time. After much wrestling in prayer, I decided to answer the call. I stood up in front of my peers and shared from my brokenness. I challenged everyone to find a friend and to do the same before the night was over. The response was overwhelming, but what I remember most was an acquaintance of mine who wrote me a several page letter expressing in detail his struggle with same-sex attraction. He demonstrated extreme courage and took a great risk in sharing such deep and personal struggles with me. I believe he felt safe to share his deeply personal struggles, although different than mine, because I took the risk first. Leaders need to lead with transparency.
3. Regularly offer and encourage safe confessional opportunities during worship. Whether you agree theologically or not, Sunday mornings still offer the greatest opportunity to reach the most people with the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe every Sunday needs an intentional time and space for confessional/healing prayer. I'm not suggesting an invitation song - AHHHH, NOOOOOO! I see it more like this... a 5-8 minute musical segment where the lights are low and prayer teams decorate the room in various locations. During this time the community is encourage to receive prayer for pain, sin, and/or celebration. This makes "sharing" a natural and normal part of the community rhythm. (Also a great time for leadership to model transparency and authenticity.)
One Sunday morning, in a congregation that practiced a similar "prayer time," a group of 10-12 visiting women made their way to the front of the auditorium and fell prostrate before God in prayer. It was a moment that shocked many of our members but was an amazing demonstration of transparency and authenticity. I later discovered that these women were from a long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation home. That moment of transparency birthed a whole new ministry to this amazing group of women. Their actions taught us something powerful that day about brokenness, transparency, and God's healing power.
Some may say, "Fostering that kind of environment might imply that we do not take sin seriously." I strongly disagree. We take sin seriously only when we are willing to risk our reputation, our favor with people, and our credibility by acknowledging it and asking for help to fight against it. One of Satan's classic schemes is "privacy and silence." Break the silence; wear a midriff.