On Sunday mornings our family tries to bring our A-game to church. Everyone has bathed within recent memory, teeth have been brushed, hair has been combed, and we’re tastefully dressed, mismatched socks notwithstanding. But our outward appearance may have little to do with what is going on inside. Perhaps we woke up late, maybe someone took too long in the shower, and now I’m fuming with anger after telling everyone for the tenth time that it’s time to get in the car and go. But we’re often more concerned with appearing proper and happy at church than we are with the anger, anxiety, bitterness and worse that we may be towing along with us.
When we project a false image of perfection at church we are doing a disservice to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to unbelievers in attendance. Church is a place for sinners, like you and me. Redeemed sinners. We’re not content with sin; it’s where we came from, not where we’re going. We know that God hates sin, and that Christ shed his blood on the cross to pay its price. We must struggle mightily against it with all the strength the Spirit provides, as long as we are in this body. But remembering we are sinners saved by God’s free grace keeps us humble. Forgetting we are sinners saved by grace makes us hypocrites. Humility will be more appealing than hypocrisy to anyone who walks into our church.
One of the saddest things I’ve witnessed, and I’ve seen it happen several times, is when someone walks away from the church after an otherwise hidden difficulty in their life has been laid bare for all to see: marital problems, or an addiction. Shouldn’t these painful circumstances drive us closer to the Lord? Shouldn’t we lean more heavily on our brothers and sisters when trials come? Let’s not drive out those who are hurting by our false appearances of perfection. Let’s not be afraid to let a little more of what’s inside come out at church.
A teacher of mine once said that the Church is not a factory, but a family. At the factory, your worth is measured by your production. In a family, your worth is defined by who you belong to. At the factory, when things don’t go well, you can quit. But you can’t quit your family. At your job, you show up looking your best. At the family breakfast table, you can show up in your pajamas.
Don’t be alarmed; I’m not going to church wearing my pajamas next Sunday (do 42 year old men even own pajamas?). But I hope if any of us are not looking our best, whether it’s on the inside or the outside, that we will still be comfortable coming to church. If you feel like you are coming up short when you compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides, I hope you will keep coming to church. And above all, if sin or struggles in your life have been exposed, please don’t stop coming to church when you need it most. We need you, too – we’re family! Just come as you are.