How the Church is More Like an Amateur Children’s Play Than a Show on Broadway

Our memories are funny. We tend to remember things that are really good or really bad. Baseline, mundane things (although important!) aren’t often as memorable. However, this is not as serious as it may sound.

I remember attending a children’s musical many years ago. I’ve been to several productions but this one was one of the most memorable! Do you care to know why? It was a disaster from start to finish.

  • Props were being dropped everywhere. It was like the kids had butter in their hands!
  • The kids were calling out: “Line!” It is possible that the backstage manager said more lines than the cast.
  • One major set piece did not get changed in between crucial scenes.

I am not quite sure if the roar of applause at the end was from a charitable crowd or from a crowd that was elated to see the “show” come to an end! Either way, it was one of the most memorable shows I have ever seen. Why? Because it was so messy. Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with anything. Good question!

What if the reason many people have a negative view of the Church is that they experienced the Church to be more like an amateur children’s play instead of a show on Broadway?

Follow me here… because this silly comparison might be quite profound. Having worked in vocational ministry for 10+ years, I’ve heard all too often the reasons why people are frustrated with “the Church.” While the reasons do vary, the most common one can be summarized with one word: hypocrisy. Even those who are not part of a Church community have a certain perception of how Christians should be. People expect Christians to be, well, like Christ. That makes sense, right? Absolutely! And while we all are (hopefully!) on a journey of growth and maturity, the reality is we are all far messier than we are comfortable admitting. It is like the phrase “Instagram versus reality.” We like to put up a front that looks well put together on social media, which often is more glamorous than reality. Hence, hypocrisy.

The word for “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word for an “actor” or someone who wears a mask in a play. It speaks to someone putting on a show, not being authentic to what’s true under the mask. The Church is at its best when grace is our daily diet and when we are honest about that. Our mess doesn’t stand in the way of connecting with God. Hiding our mess means we hide from God.

Bringing our mess to Jesus is where faith begins (not where it ends!). In the story of God coming to the end of ourselves is actually the beginning of grace.

The Church is messy because it’s full of people, and people are messy by nature. Yes, even “Christians” who now have the Holy Spirit inside of them are messy. Why? Because the process of transformation is a messy one! There is no flip of the switch to getting our motives, desires, habits, thoughts, and behaviors on par with who we are becoming. We are not computers in need of programming, we are persons in need of renewal. And so there is a natural mess that comes with the total renovation of our hearts. And you know what? That’s okay! We just need to be honest and upfront about that.

Hypocrisy is frustrating when it is unexpected. If we set the expectation that we are messy people who are entirely dependent (even addicted!) to God’s grace, then what is hypocrisy? Messing up is part of the program!

When it’s expected, it’s far more forgivable. Can we take that even further? It’s normal. Yes, being messy is the norm because we all are messy. It’s the difference between going to a show on broadway and to your local elementary school musical, as we already described. If the broadway show is full of faltered props, ques, and lines–you’ll think the show was a blunder! If the elementary school musical has kids calling out for the line and breaking the fourth wall, you’ll shrug and maybe even laugh. Why? Because that’s what amateurs do–they mess up! We are Christians but we aren’t our Christ. We are amateurs. And while it is right to expect that we imitate Jesus and emulate him in the world, it’s also right to expect us to be just like his first disciples–who often needed a hearty, gentle correction and a heavy dose of grace along the way. 

Make no mistake, none of this serves as an excuse for the real and damaging church hurt that has taken place. We must own that we are guilty by association and (most likely) guilty of causing hurt to others as well. All this does is reframe for ourselves and others who we really are. We are the messy messengers who announce the good news of the good God who has come to save us.

The truth is: God loves messy people. Not because God loves our mess but because God loves us.

And maybe we ought to love messy people too, especially when we realize we are some of those messy people.

Going back to where we started… we are amateurs, not broadway performers. Yet, the New Testament consistently uses language of “saints” (aka “holy ones”) to describe Christians.

I [Paul] am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people [“saints”]. He made you holy [“saints”] by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2, NLT)

This is shocking. Have you ever read 1 Corinthians? That church was jacked up! And yet, how does Paul address them on more than one occasion? What does he call them? He calls them the same he calls Christians in Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and so on… he calls them “holy ones,” aka “saints.” How can this be? Because holiness is not a moral quality we achieve but a status we receive. Only God can make someone holy. And in Christ, we are declared holy. And the rest of our journey of walking with Jesus is about bringing alignment between who we are and how we act.

To go back to our analogy:

We are called “holy” (think Broadway) even while we are still fumbling the props and missing our lines. 

We are saints because that’s how God sees us in Christ. But we are also messy because we are on a life-long journey of bridging the gap between who we are by name and who we are becoming by character. Embracing this–and being proud addicts of God’s grace–might actually make Christians the most authentic and appealing people on the planet.

Let’s be really good at pointing people to the source of grace–Jesus. If we do that well, we are doing more good than any amount of moral performance ever could do!

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