What would it be like to go to a church where all the whack jobs go? A church where prostitutes and homeless people feel COMFORTABLE. A church full of salesmen, lawyers and golf professionals. A church where everyone is recovering from something. Me, I am a recovering butthole and pottymouth. You might be a recovering snob, or a recovering heroin addict – but we are all recovering from something.
The suburban church has a problem: suburbanites! Most of us live in the suburbs to get away from exactly those people who wouldn’t feel comfortable at church. For many of us, church tends to be a place where we pretend to be someone that we are not. We mask as many of our sins as we can, and try to appear pious and spiritual. We avoid deep relationships at church, where people can rub up against us and possibly see those things we are masking.
Whether we admit it or not, we are much more like the pharisee than the tax collector from Luke 18:
18:9 Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. 18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’ 18:13 The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!’ 18:14 I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The truth is, people in our suburban communities desparately need Jesus. In this regard, they are not different than the urban people that they avoid. They may be more affluent, but not more righteous. They may be more conformant to societal norms, but they are not less judged.
Suburbanites have tended to buy into the American Dream – self-sufficiency. We are wealthy. We think that because we have much, that we have earned it; that we somehow “deserve” it; that it somehow reflects God’s blessing toward us. We judge people who are less successful. We collectively tend to look down on pathetic people. We forget how pathetic we are.
We sit in small groups and ask prayers for our family, neighbors, and friends; for everyone but ourselves. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are being spiritual because we do not express our needs. We praise others in our small group who appear knowledgable about spiritual matters, or who pray with spiritual words, but even those mask the depth of our depravity.
We all have issues – conflict with family members, issues with lust or greed or coveteousness, idols, hobbies or passions that have displaced God in our lives.
We need the cleansing of the word – but how can we “get clean” if we are not ready to “come clean”. When we take off our mask, we are just as uncool as those we judge and despise. We need to learn to be uncool at church.