As a worship leader, I want to lead others in being authentic; because I believe that when we are authentic and real (with God and each other), our worship is authentic. I fully believe that our identity as Believers is tied up in and defined by Who God is and what He’s done. At the same time, I believe that only when we are willing to come to God as humans in our sin and humanity, broken, needy, and honest, is there ‘worship in spirit and truth’ (John 4:23). There is the ‘real truth’ of God that needs to break through the false truths of how we define ourselves based on our shame and brokenness, or our self-righteousness. Every week, every worship set, every day I find myself awaking to a grey and skewed version of what creation ‘ought’ to be, to this place that needs a Savior, and needs new mercy…possibly even more than it did yesterday.
Brennan Manning touched this deeply throughout his Ragamuffin Gospel (1990), a snippet is seen here:
The prayer of the poor in spirit can simply be a single word: Abba…In this sense, there is no such thing as bad prayer. A third characteristic of the tilted-halo gang [ragamuffins] is honesty. We must know who we are. How difficult it is to be honest, to accept that I am unacceptable, to renounce self-justification, to give up the pretense that my prayers, spiritual insight, tithing, and successes in ministry have made me pleasing to God! No antecedent beauty enamors me in His eyes. I am lovable only because He loves me (p. 83).
And in that place He bears our shame, our false self, and sees us (somehow) as who we ‘ought’ to be. He sees Jesus. “Somehow,” that is. I don’t know how exactly, but He does it. And Christ becomes our ‘true’ (actual) self in His eyes. Hallelujah. And because it is truly grace, we can count on it, as we pray for Him to make that revelation true and enduring to (and in) our hearts.
Back to community. Being a place for ragamuffins clothed in Christ, I believe, is essential. My friend Mike’s life message is: “being a safe place.” Being a ‘safe place’ can at first seem slightly subjective to varying perspectives (how one defines ‘safe’), but in this sense I believe that ‘being a safe place’ is to be a place that allows the walls come down: walls of self-righteousness, of weakness, of brokenness, and even apathy. A safe place to say “yes, I am part of the grey, skewed, world that I woke up inside of today…and I need a savior (the Savior).”
In his book Life Together (1954), Bonhoeffer wrote:
The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners
But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth (p. 110-111).
Being a ‘safe place’ is to be a place of the grace of the Gospel, that realistically approaches the Throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16) as a Body and says corporately and in confidence: “We need Your mercy, Lord. We are in need, Lord. Abba!” And I’ve found that taking this message (of unconditional love), to a world of conditional love is powerful. To embody that testimony of such a love (while being honest in our failures of carrying that love perfectly), I believe, is hopeful and contagious. There is joy there. When we come to the point where we realize we don’t have to perform, but be honest and laugh and cry.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:17)
Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together. NY: Harper Row, Publishers.
Manning, B. (1990). The Ragamuffin Gospel. OR: Multnomah Books.