By: Rob Gibson
Is there room for brokenness in your church?
Is it safe for you and His children to be broken works in process in your church?
I raise these questions because I’ve so often seen the wounded shot rather than restored by believers gently bearing one another’s burdens (Gal 6:1-3). Some are quick to put a scalpel to the sins of another, even when they are fighting against temptation and various proclivities, but miss putting the axe to the log in their own eye.
Recently I heard a senior pastor speaking who shared that he had a bad temper and continues to struggle with it. His wife is his gatekeeper, identifying for him when it flares up so he can go to be alone with his anger in his study. When approached by a younger pastor who was confessing struggles with sexual sin, this same man was quick to say he was disqualified for ministry. Maybe he was. I don’t know the degree of the struggle and that is significant as occasional struggles with lust of the eyes are different in consequence than having engaged in an affair. But maybe this young pastor really was a humble and contrite man after the heart of God who was choosing to confess his brokenness and walk in the light.
This grabs me because to confess sin, bring it into the light, and seek help is exactly what we are called to do. To take sin to our study—even a temper and anger—may be safer for those around us, but it may still leave a log in our eye or a seed of bitterness in our heart to fester.
The question is: Is it safe to be a sinner who confesses sin and seeks the help of the body of Christ? Is it safe in the church to walk in the light of Christ and seek to journey into healing? To keep a part of ourselves in the shadows of darkness is false and deadly. Too many pastors do this and too many people learn from them to hide sin in the shadows.
I empathize with Mark Driscoll, a pastor who received a lot of press in 2014. He’s been thrust into the light. He is broken and he has confessed it and apologized for it. He’s been an angry prophet. I can relate. He’s plagiarized. I suspect I have too, as I’m certain I don’t have any original thoughts. He’s been overwhelmed and frustrated and hurt people. I know I’ve hurt people as my frustrations have come out sideways on people I love.
Driscoll repented and sought forgiveness, but he’s still broken and healing. He’s human. I’m broken too and I’m certain I am more broken than I realize and I am desperate for Jesus’ grace. I believe His grace can be profoundly experienced in a community of faith that practices truth about their brokenness.
Is there room for brokenness in your church?
Let me take us to John’s first letter and explain what I mean.
1 John 1:5-10 (ESV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him, while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John is advocating for joyful fellowship that comes from living in the light of the grace. Fellowship with the Father and with each other, in the light, trusting dependently in Jesus’ blood, that security anchors our joy and fellowship.
John is advocating for joyful fellowship that comes from living in the light of grace, fellowship with the Father and with each other. The security that anchors our joy and fellowship is walking in the light, trusting unreservedly in Jesus’ blood.
Let me put some boundaries on what I believe John is NOT saying when he calls us to walk in the light, or practice truth.
He is NOT giving believers permission to sin or practice sin.
He is also NOT setting an expectation of sinless perfection.
He IS giving us an invitation to real humanity.
This is an invitation to face our true broken humanity (even the redeemed groan for redemption). The fact is we are sinners who sin and humans who need God’s grace and forgiveness and cleansing every moment. To walk in the light and practice truth is to face our true broken humanity in the light of His grace.
Again, this is not to permit, promote, or accept that we live in unrepentant sin and like it. That may well be the mark of the unredeemed.
Likewise, to live concealing sin and brokenness in the shadows of darkness, covering up our humanity and keeping it just out of sight—keeping up appearances, is NOT practicing truth. I believe like Paul that we practice the truth when we own that we are sinful and desperate for God’s mercy (2 Cor 12:9; 1 Tim 1:15). In exposing brokenness to the light, that which we bring into the light becomes light (Eph 5:13-14).
Exposure is risky. It can feel unsafe, especially if it is not modeled by the pastor and met with grace that seeks to restore gently. But it is safe because the blood of Jesus cleanses us, the Spirit of God has secured us, and nothing can separate us from His love. It is safe, but is it worth the risk? Is there not another way? Well, no, because if Jesus came to us in humility and brokenness (Phil 2:5ff) how can we meet Him or anyone else any other way than in weakness and brokenness? And if we don’t risk it there is a tremendous cost.
What is the cost to me if I don’t?
- I live a life of pretense—a lie—by choice. By keeping parts of me and my brokenness in the shadows of darkness I pretend to be something I’m not, something better than I am.
- I live a life of distant and disconnected fellowship. I choose to be disconnected from God and others because to keep my life in darkness is to withdraw from fellowship with God and others.
- I choose the outward appearance of godliness (and may come to believe my own press clippings) rather than the truth that I am weak and desperately dependent upon grace (2 Cor 12:9).
- I cannot meet God in grace any other way than to come humble, weak, and broken.
What is the cost to the church?
- We (pastors) model and train others to hide their sin and shame.
- We tell others about the cure, but we don’t lead them to step into the grace of God as fellow broken humans.
- We train others to be artificial and to erect facades behind which they to choose to hide their brokenness.
- We inhibit true fellowship, by substituting generalizations of sin for real confession and burden bearing relationships. We inhibit people from experiencing the radical grace filled support and encouragement broken hearted sinners desperately need.
What is the cost to the world?
- The world sees another group of “players” and “posers” who pretend to have their act together on Sunday morning, but the neighbors really know you’re human too.
- The world dismisses and discounts the church as people living in the shadows because it’s not real. It pretends everything is “OK” when it is indeed full of people that hurt and sin and are broken and groan for the day of ultimate healing and redemption.
What is the way forward?
- We (pastors) need to be honest, authentic, and real.
- We need to share our humanity and brokenness so others can follow us to the cross and experience the grace of God.
- We need to trust and show them it is safe to do so, safe because we truly believe in the securing work of Jesus Christ, not in our ability to be good and get it right.
- We need to lead the way, like Paul (1Tim 1:15), or even King David who wrote songs about his sin (Ps 51) and his walk in the light (Ps 32), and model our trust in the mercy of God.
- We need to risk rejection by men and women who might prefer a “pretty package” of a pastor rather than the real deal of a man who is broken and experiencing forgiving and transforming grace like other broken humans.
- We need to step into the light and model trusting Christ’s grace so others might step into the light as well.
The true church is at risk. The true light of fellowship that meets broken hearted sinners, and prisoners, and people in the ashes of life and carries them to the ever flowing river of God’s grace and love and power in Jesus Christ.
Rob Gibson is Senior Pastor of North Oldham Baptist Church. He earned his Master of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and also serves on the board of directors with Practical Shepherding. Rob is married to Margaret and has 2 grown children.