Recently, there’s been a lot of rhetoric surrounding so-called reality shows – well, one show in particular. I am not, and have never been, much of a fan of these shows (though I must confess that I do enjoy watching “Shark Tank”). The main reason I’m not a fan is that I don’t think these shows reflect actual “reality.” The emphasis is on show, not reality (a shock, I hope, to no one).
However, there is one “reality show” that I do enjoy. It is very real, and its cast of characters is as interesting as any. Consider the following: a husband and wife reconciling after her extra-marital affair; a man whose wife no longer wanted to be married and left him; a lady who battles depression; a man who suffers bouts of anxiety; a leader who struggles with self-doubt; parents with a rebellious (even criminal) child; a man constantly battling lust; a lady who struggles with jealousy and envy; a man with anger issues; a recovering alcoholic; a recovering drug addict; a recovering porn addict; a lady who persistently deals with the scars of physical, mental, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? After all, this cast sounds like that of a daytime soap opera or an R-rated movie or some off-the-wall novel. But it’s not. This cast is actually a subset of the people who attend my church. You see, my favorite “reality show” is my church. It emphasizes reality, not show – both with its people and in its culture.
My church is full of imperfect people. It’s full of broken people. It’s full of societal misfits. It’s full of people who don’t have it all together. Most importantly, however, it’s full of people who willingly and persistently rely on God’s grace to make it not just through their life, but perhaps through their day.
I am continually awestruck when I read or hear the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), or the story of Jesus rescuing the adulterous woman threatened with stoning (John 8:1-11), or the story of the woman with the alabaster jar (Matthew 26:6-10). Each of these stories uniquely portrays God’s resplendent grace on and toward sinful people, while simultaneously shaming those who prefer scorn, punishment, or denouncement. Importantly, while we read of Jesus forgiving these people of their sins, we never read where Jesus encouraged or excused their sin. Nor do we read where Jesus first condemned them because they sinned. He saved his most vociferous condemnation for the pharisaic; the self-righteous who considered themselves upright, holy, pure, or, quite simply, better than others.
Undoubtedly, there are some pharisaic people who attend my church. I’m sure every church has at least one or two (minimum). After all, a perfect church is not reality. But overwhelmingly, the people I encounter at my church are those who, despite their past or present circumstances, want nothing more than to know and be known by God. They want nothing more than to be rescued from the harsh punishment of sin. They want nothing more than to offer Christ something of great value. My church is full of such people. My church overwhelmingly welcomes and encourages such people.
So, you may wonder, just how is it that I know all of these things about all of these people? Well, first of all, because I am one of them. And secondly, because all of these people publicly, and without shame, profess and acknowledge their struggles. This is another reason my church is my favorite “reality show.” It has developed a culture that allows others to unashamedly share their struggles. Not in a way that fosters continual sin, self-pity, or enablement. Rather, in a way that encourages people to overcome sin.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, commanded us to “[b]ear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). By this, he meant that we need to help others who are shouldering a load that is heavier than they alone can (or should) carry. In the same vein, to avoid becoming prideful, we need to not just assist others, but allow others to assist us in carrying a burden that we alone cannot carry. I observe a lot of load-sharing amongst the people of my church. It’s quite inspiring.
To the casual visitor, my church may, at first blush, fit their preconceived notion – whatever that may be – of an “ordinary, garden-variety” evangelical church. But it usually doesn’t take them long to realize that my church is not ordinary. They quickly realize that the people are different, in that they are actually the same. That is, they readily observe that many of the people who attend my church have the same struggles, the same anxieties, and the same issues as they do. The big difference, however, is that the believers at my church have found the answer. First and foremost, they have found a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But in addition to this, they have developed strong, healthy relationships with fellow believers.
I am proud to attend a church that wholeheartedly welcomes all people, regardless of status (James 2:1-13). I am proud to attend a church where the people (from the senior pastor on down) readily confess their sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16).
I don’t believe that my church is unique. There are plenty of other churches that exhibit these same characteristics. I just think that my church does it better than most. Certainly better than any other church I’ve been associated with during my adult life.
And so, here is a “shout out” to my church – meaning the people who lead and attend my church – New Life Church, Phoenix (Ahwatukee), Arizona, you exemplify a New Testament church. You display a reality that is worth more than watching, it is worth experiencing.