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Embracing the Mess: Why Authenticity is the Key to Building Trust in the Church

Everyone is a hot sinful mess. Everyone. Don’t think you are? Then you really are. The sooner you acknowledge you’re a mess—a work in progress, ideas without final solutions—the quicker you’ll build trust. 

Relationships are built on trust. Relationships crumble when trust erodes. Relationships deepen when people acknowledge the messiness within and around them. But in order to earn trust, we have to share our messes with sincerity. No false pretenses allowed. Locate your mess, and embrace it. Confess it to Jesus and others, especially your close friends and colleagues. 

I’m known for embracing awkward conversations, especially in public. My preaching is filled with the appropriate amount of my mess. (Stress appropriate amount.) My congregation knows their pastor is a sinner in need of salvation. 

I embrace awkward conversations with my ministry team. Sometimes they look at me like I’m crazy. I can see the thought bubble, "He is really going there.” Yep. Why? Jesus is there. Jesus meets us in our mess. The sick—not the well—need a Savior. 

Sometimes I get frustrated by “church nice.” Local congregations often develop a personality of passive and shallow conversations. Keep everything surface-level, safe…boring. Maybe that is going too far. But maybe not. 

Church life should be more fun than any movie. Why do we love movies…at least the non-boring ones? They have a plot, characters…and a mess that must be solved. Viewers lean in as we collectively wait for the resolution to the mess. Church life is a movie in which we get a role. The world is a mess. The local church is a mess. The Church is on mission in a messy world to let others know Jesus stepped into our mess and became it for us on the cross. 

Maybe our churches would be more winsome if we acknowledged our mess more frequently. Maybe our churches would be more winsome if pastors more openly acknowledged their messes—the mess of pride, the mess of shame, the mess of insecurity. That is my mess. What is yours? 

I know what some of you pastors are already thinking, “But there is a line. We should be very careful to not publicly confess too much of our mess. Our transparency could damage the pastoral office. We are called to be set apart as ministers for the people.” 

I hear you. There is some wisdom in that argument. A line certainly exists. Wisdom helps discern what to share, when to share, and who to share with. Yet…could some of our struggles as pastors in the LCMS be due to the fact that pastors very rarely (never?) confess our mess to friends or fellow pastors who can speak the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ over us? Could our mess be that we pridefully hide our mess from one another, masking our insecurities? Could our mess be that we virtue signal in our various “sub-groups” in the LCMS (traditional/contemporary, clerical/no-clerical, missional/confessional, etc.), self-righteously judging the mess of other “sub-groups”? 

Relational health will come in the LCMS at the speed of trust. Trust is built when pastors and leaders genuinely and specifically acknowledge their mess. Join the messy mission of Christ with the ULC!


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1 Comment

Important stuff. We should also recognize that we are taking a “holy risk” when we share our mess with the folks. I find myself sometimes too open in discussions in Bible Study groups vs sermon at the Divine Service. Maybe it is the safety of those who self-select my Bible Study vs. those in the pews/chairs in the Sanctuary on Sunday morning.

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