While sitting listening to a musician pour out her heart through music at a show the intern house hosted, I was challenged. The emotions in her voice communicated her story and as I sat there pleasantly soaking in the music and admiring her vulnerability, I also realized I wouldn’t want to put myself out there like that. At that same moment, I stopped and thought, is that how I view church? Do I put up those same walls with God?
Vulnerability is difficult, when our culture thrives on individualism. Television shows, books, and movies tell us that we can create the world we desire through our own strength. This culture tells us that we are the creators of our reality, a societal standard that has seeped into the church, creating a standard of self-reliance and individualism.
Brennan Manning stated, “the church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” The church “hospital” should be the place where we come ready for healing and treatment. As such, people generally do not go to a hospital hiding their wounds and disease expecting to get better. This self-medication can only cover the symptoms while never combating the true source of the ailment. The truth is that in life, we are all terminally ill patients with different pains in desperate need of a doctor. In this, we are not alone in the fight.
The influx of individualism in Christianity has made the church this “mausoleum for saints.” Many churches have become places where we glorify the fake outer shell of perfection while underneath we hide crippling disease and wounds. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) but we choose to fight alone.
However, the need to appear perfect seems to be a symptom of a larger problem: rejection. When churchgoers condemn and judge people before they act with compassion and empathy, they are in essence laying the bricks for the walls that people build. It is nearly impossible to be vulnerable when the church has been defined as judgmental, self-righteous, and condemning for decades. Because of this choice, we negate the purpose of church.
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)
Individualism threatens the cohesion of the church. Ironically, it is also an individual decision to judge and create a space of guarded hearts and distance or act with empathy in solidarity and create a space of healing and growth.It is my personal choice to be more accepting and welcoming, but also to break down the walls I have built.
Kevin Sakaguchi is an executive assistant at Sojourners.