Honesty in Church?
“You know, I find that one of the hardest places to be honest, as an artist, is in the church.”
Whoa! Say what? The statement took me aback a bit.
Then another voice chimed in, “Oh, I totally agree. There are a lot of audiences much more accepting of honesty in our culture. The church is one of the hardest places to speak the truth.”
Wham again! I mean of all places for honesty and truth, shouldn’t the church be at the top of the list?
The conversation was at an intimate gathering of Christian artists in a retreat setting—oddly enough, in a church. Most of the people in attendance were professional performers with a focus on ministry. For most, their audience was the church.
Among the attributes of an artist, speaking the truth is at the top of the list. And yet…
“Oh, you can be honest about some things—the ‘approved topics’ that the tribe accepts. Of course, you can talk about ‘Gospel’ truth. You can even talk about certain failings, certain areas of brokenness; the ‘acceptable sins.’ But there are lots of areas that you can’t touch.”
As the conversation continued I began to understand. There was much brokenness and hurt gathered in this room; divorce, betrayal, addictions, and other issues that are not easily dismissed. Stuff that real people deal with on a daily basis.
And they were saying that both personally and as artists they found it difficult and even impossible to speak about these things in the one place where issues of brokenness should be welcome.
I recalled a conversation with a friend who is a well-known Christian recording artist. He had echoed some of the same sentiment. His passion was to write songs about brokenness but was hitting a wall of resistance. He was told the songs he wanted to write would not be “marketable” to the church audience he was playing to. Only positive and uplifting music was desired and would be commercially acceptable.
In recent years I have been sharing personal stories from my life in my performances. One of the things I have found encouraging is that people are overwhelmingly affirming about the “honesty” and “transparency” I share in my stories… but to be even more honest and transparent, I filtered those stories to stay away from the taboo topics, that I knew deep down inside I couldn’t share. I knew my audiences wouldn’t accept those stories in the context of a church setting. I have to admit it would be very easy to be “more honest” about some of the issues if I were not playing to the church.
I am in a lot of churches… virtually a different one or two every weekend. A lot of churches advertise “come as you are” and try really hard to project an image of being a place where the broken are welcome. But are they being honest?
I don’t have an answer.
I do know that, for the most part, the group of artists gathered in this room are exceptionally qualified to speak honesty and truth, but are not feeling the freedom to do that for the audience they feel called to serve.
Thoughts?Posted by Chuck Neighbors | 4 comments
Thanks, Chuck. I think one of our obstacles might be the context in which we perform. Often we’re performing in worship services or educational or social settings that only last an hour or two, and if we spill a bunch of tough, painful stuff, there’s no context for working through it or healing the wounds it opens in people. I wonder if churches need to use theater more in retreat settings, where there’s time to process and pray about deeper, harder truths. Or use us in a performing arts series where it’s understood that there’s going to be some material that falls outside the usual box, and may not be appropriate for kids. I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed by church leaders along with writers and performers.
Thank you for your honesty! 🙂 I actually came on here to unsubscribe, but ended up checking out what I was unsubscribing to. In reading this blog, my thoughts went to a lady who conducted a Women’s Retreat for us for a day and a half. It was a short time, but during that time, she shared stories, sang and even preached a little. We had prayer time, meal time together, and some free time to share and discuss among ourselves. We have invited this lady to conduct our 4-day revival in January. I think this would be an excellent venue to share these types of songs. Where you can sing them and share the stories behind them, then bring God’s Word into the equation…His answers, His healing, His comfort, and on and on, and leave on a victorious note! This lady even mentioned that she feels more of our stories should be shared in song. Could be the beginning of a renewal of revivals in the church!
I hope and pray that all of you as Christian artists can boldly go where you haven’t before and touch on these areas that have seemed to be “off limits”. I’m very thankful to be attending a church (Watermark Community Church, Dallas, TX) where honesty and openness is the norm. From the stage, even the Sr. Pastor will talk about areas of brokenness that he faces. Regularly, we hear stories of lives that were marked by some of sin’s deepest, most destructive patterns and the transformations that have taken place. People’s lives are moving from addictions of alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography; harm to self; harm to others; unforgiveness; struggles with trust issues (even trusting God); and the list goes on. Part of the problem with a lot of churches is they don’t embrace the fact that God doesn’t require us to clean up our messy lives before we come to Him. He does that. It’s clear in Scripture and in life experience that instead, we need to acknowledge our weakness and dependence on God. Trying to manage our own sin is what gets us in trouble in the first place. Pastors and church leaders need to wake up and realize that the saying “Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints”, is what we need to keep at the very forefront of our ministries. If not, the church fails in it’s mission to make Christ followers. Keep pressing on Chuck, in the high calling of being God’s servant through the ministry of the arts!
Reminds me of a story I once heard. A young pastor took over a church in Kentucky. He wanted to make a good impression so for his first Sunday sermon he spoke on the evils of smoking. Afterwards a deacon came up to him and said, “Excellent sermon, pastor but you must tread lightly my son. One third of the congregation raises tobacco.”
Undaunted, he chose as his next sermon a stirring message on the evils of gambling. Afterwards another deacon came up to him and said, “Excellent sermon, pastor but you must tread lightly my son. One third of the congregation raises race horses.”
The young pastor was a little disappointed but still determined to make a good impression So the next Sunday he spoke on the evils of alcohol. Afterwards a deacon come up to him and said, “Excellent sermon, pastor but you must tread lightly my son. One third of the congregation works in the brewery.”
Finally, he decided he would deliver a fiery sermon on the evils of fishing within the territorial waters of another nation.