“The church is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners.”
— Attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo
One of the only apps on my iPhone that I truly care about is Instagram. Ever since it has come out I have been addicted to it. Some genius created a photo app that makes photo editing easy and makes readily available beautiful pictures and works of art from around the world accessible in my palm. However, Instagram has also helped to create a culture of the curated self. Most people who post pictures on the app do not post pictures of their bad day. Rather they post pictures of them at their best and most interesting. You can’t really blame anyone for that but unfortunately it gives off the impression that life for them (me and you) is perfect, without blemish or problem.
The reality is that social media isn’t where this culture of the curated self started. It’s been embedded in our society for a long time, especially in our churches. That’s often a complaint of those who do not go to church. We are accused of avoiding the hard questions and for giving off the appearance of having a perfectly put together life in the one place that we’re supposed to be brutally honest. This is a culture worth fighting against and one that the church has been for a long time.
It is our job to do this on the adolescent side of the church. Over time we have constantly told our youth that this is a place where you can be you. You don’t have to be cool. You don’t have to have all the right answers. Truly come to the Justin with all of your mess, not neatly bundled up, but scattered, tattered, and torn like it truly is. This past Sunday Kat talked about doubt and gave youth an opportunity to express theirs. In past retreats and experiences our youth are often asked to write the things they hide from others and they are asked to confess and to be vulnerable whether that is in a small group or on a paper fig leaf. All of this is done in pursuit of a culture of honesty and vulnerability, in pursuit of creating a space where it is safe to come and shamelessly bring all of your junk.
This year we have had seen several youth hit walls and fall short. We have had youth be brought to a place where they need a space to be brutally honest. The beautiful thing is that we have had the great and strange honor of walking with them through a lot of these situations. You have youth here in your church that are finding comfort in the presence of Jesus here and nowhere else. You have youth turning to this church for hope and reassurance that there is a place that loves and accepts them for who they are, even at their messiest.
I’ll finish with a phrase I once heard a pastor say at a conference — that as the church we run to the messes. I would add that not only do we run to them but we create a culture in our church that welcomes them with open arms.