Recently, Holly tried to buy laundry detergent and instead accidentally bought detergent that was meant to clean the washing machine. I didn’t even know such things existed. But they do.
Is it just me, or does that seem totally useless and silly? Isn’t the washing machine already pretty clean from washing dirty laundry?
Yet it strikes me that what would seem silly to a lot of us is all too common in the Church today. How many churches are just keeping the machine clean but not doing any dirty laundry?
In other words, far too often churches would rather have a squeaky-clean image than have to deal with the messiness of sinful people. We create graceless environments that do not eliminate sin but instead drive people to live double lives. We’re quick to write people off the second they fail. Or we get nervous when “that” kind of person walks through our doors. All in the name of having a clean machine.
And then we act surprised when people who don’t have all their crap together leave the church. Or never come at all.
I don’t think many people really realize or want to admit how messy, slow, painful, and gradual real change is. People will sometimes tell me that we have to do something about the students at Elevation. We need to deal with them. They’re coming to our church, but they’re still sinning. One person actually left the church one time and said it was because there were some people in our church that were hypocrites.
That’s about as asinine as saying a doctor doesn’t need to keep treating sick people. Or people who get sick more than once.
Of course, there are teenagers who are still having sex. Of course, there are hypocrites. And I’m proud of it. That’s why we started Elevation. To do the dirty laundry. To see people far from God come to know Him and have their lives turned upside down. So that teenagers wouldn’t sell out to the lowest common denominator of middle and high school existence. So that hypocrites wouldn’t be hypocrites anymore.
But here’s the truth many churches don’t want to accept: it’s very messy for broken people to be healed and transformed. It takes time. Birth is messy. It isn’t pretty. And guess what? Neither is new birth. Following Jesus is messier than people make it out to be. And it’s just as messy and dirty for churches trying to empower people to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Church is called to be holy. I believe the best thing we can do for people sometimes is call them on their crap.
But I also believe we sometimes want people to get it faster than the disciples did without showing the patience Jesus showed. I also believe that the same Jesus who calls us to be holy also said He came for those who were dirty. Not for those who were clean.
I also believe you and I were one of them:
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood, I said to you, “Live!” I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. (Ezekiel 16:6,9)
And I also believe Jesus wants us to do the same for others. Even if it’s messy.