Spirituality and spiritual growth thrives in environments where vulnerability and authenticity are fostered. While not every single environment can or should be purposed for times of things like confession or accountability, the problem is, many churches don’t emphasize or provide any space or a culture where vulnerability and authenticity are safe or encouraged outside the invitation (more on that in a minute). In this issue of Wineskins we are going to explore the value of vulnerability and authenticity in the life of Christians and in the life of the congregation.

There is obviously a lot of fear and concern that comes up when we talk about how to create more open and transparent cultures in our churches because that means we are going to have some uncomfortable conversations and things won’t always be predictable. The problem is, in our effort to control the outcome and create predictable events that aren’t likely to deviate from our plan or “order of worship,” we may inadvertently push out creativity, confession, and the vulnerability that is required to foster any sort of meaningful spiritual intimacy. The result is a surface spirituality that has a hard time connecting with people on a deeper level and a feeling that the church is out of touch with what real people are really going through.

The perfect example of this is the “invitation”. At the end of the sermon we ask people to who have sin in their lives or want to become a Christian to come forward for prayer or baptism. In many churches it is rare to get much of a response. Why is that? I would argue that much of it is due to the ethos or environment that has been created on Sunday morning. That space/event has not been viewed with authenticity in mind. Instead, the Sunday worship experience is viewed with an eye toward pragmatism…how many chairs can you get in the room trumps meaningful interpersonal connection. How small can the bread and cup be in order to serve X number of people. Otherwise, we would face each other and interact with one another and eat together. The way we arrange things speaks to the values that influenced the structures that we have created. So people don’t respond to the invitation due to the environment but also due to a lack of a deep sense of community within the congregation. That is obvious because people fear what will be thought of them. People fear what others will say. So the very event that is geared toward getting some sort of response falls short…not because we don’t offer it but because it isn’t “safe space” to be real.

All of this points to the lack of a culture of openness and safety in transparency that would encourage people to be authentic in worship. If we are going to be prepared to engage future generations (and even current ones) we are going to have to stretch our comfort zones and not just encourage more confession…it will happen on its own if…we intentionally create healthy environments where we can get beneath the surface and go deeper than shallow and loose connections with other Christians in rooms full of hundreds or thousands of people. It is going to take intentionality. It is going to be down right scarey at times. But it is necessary and is going to take strong leadership that, ironically, is going to have to show how weak it really is…weak in and of ourselves but strong in the Lord.

Let me close with this question…what does the church expect from its minister in being authentic with their own weaknesses? We have conflicting values here. On one hand we expect our leaders to lead from the front…so if there is going to be confession it should start with the leadership. On the other hand the last thing the church wants to hear is a minister or elder confessing sins…it shows they are human. It shows they fail. It shows they have weakness. The thing is…all of that is true but we just don’t want to acknowledge it. So we leave our church leaders in an awkward position of asking the congregation to do things (like confession) that they themselves don’t feel like they have the liberty to do without losing their job or position.

So let’s discuss both practical ways to build vulnerability and authenticity into the things we do as Christians and as congregations…but let us not stay on the surface level of just what to do. Let’s dig deeper under the surface and discuss healthy and unhealthy church culture and how we might embrace a better, more biblical value systems that these things would more naturally flow out of.

Thoughts?