Three Keys to Talking About “Hard Stuff” in the Church Context

This is part five of five in my five-part series on talking about the hard stuff within the church context. Check out Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 by clicking on the links. 

I’ve been a lot more outspoken recently in groups of people about how I think the church is not willing to talk about certain things, and I’ve gotten an interesting reaction.

What I’ve found is this: those over 35 are quicker to say that that’s not true, that we can talk about things, even hard things, in church without a problem. It’s got to be in the “right” context, yes, but we can talk about. On the other hand, younger folk feel as if certain topics aren’t allowed to be talked about, aren’t allowed to be discussed, particularly the ones most pertinent to their lives. For instance, some of the things I’ve written about in the previous posts in this series.

Why is that, I wonder? There’s a few possible reasons.

  1. The older generation does talk about these things but the younger folk feel excluded from these conversations.
  2. The older generation thinks that these conversations happen but they actually don’t.
  3. The younger folk are not seeing/taking part in these conversations even though they’re happening right in front of them.

I don’t know why, but for some reason that’s what the perceived reality is in the current church context. And there’s only one way to fix it, in my mind. Have the conversations in a broader context. Just talk about it, for goodness’ sake. From my reading of the Bible, there are no restrictions on who you should talk about things with, when you should talk about them, how much you should share. In fact, Scripture says, “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16), “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). So whether it’s sins we’re talking about or difficult culturally relevant topics, the command in Scripture is to talk.

But how do we talk about it? What are the keys to having conversations about difficult issues and topics and growing the church to a place where we talk about these difficult things?


 

Remember the Gospel of grace is your foundational identity.

There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

If we have a full grasp of the Gospel, we will talk about our sin without worry of condemnation. The central point of the Gospel is that we have been given new life in Christ and our sin no longer has a grip on us and our eternity. The more that I’ve grasped this, the more I’ve felt comfortable talking about the things in my life I struggle with.

So often I think we hide things because we’re afraid of what people will think of us. I think that a lot for myself. I want to share current personal struggles, but I’m afraid of what people will think of me. I’m afraid people will trust me less, will think of me as less of a Christian, will not allow me to serve in ways I want to serve in the church. But if my identity is firmly set in Jesus and the cross and the forgiveness and grace the cross offers, the less I will worry about what people think of me. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with people’s views of me. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s one worth investing in.

Be intentional about including all ages in your conversations. And do it in love and understanding and patience.

If you’re going to start discussing things like racism, mental illness or profanity, it’s very likely that those under 18 are struggling with those things. If you’re going to talk about social media, technology use or modern dating/relationships, it’s likely that those over 35 aren’t as comfortable with those things. We as a church need each other. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul tells his young companion: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” There seems to be an emphasis on building relationships between age groups, not curtaining them off all the time. I think there’s good to limiting some groups to specific age groups for certain conversations, but there’s also a point to where we need each other.

One fear, especially from the younger crowd pertaining to including the older crowd, is that there won’t be a mutual respect of opinions. There are times I’ve definitely felt that older men don’t respect my opinion or even my feelings on a topic simply because I don’t have the same “life experience” as them. There is some truth to that opinion, but there is no quicker way to make a young person feel less valuable than to say (audibly or by your actions) what they think or feel doesn’t matter because they haven’t experienced enough. Some of us have experienced a lot. Eighteen years is a lot of life. Heck, fifteen years is a lot of life.

Please, be inclusionary. And don’t write us off just because we were born much later than you.

For the love of all things raven, don’t use “Christianese” all the time. Be specific.

One of the most obnoxious things I find about talking about hard stuff in the church today is that we throw out all the churchy phrases we can come up with to mask what’s really going on or what our real thoughts are. We bash politicians for being “politically correct” and then we get all “Christian-politically correct” in church. We end up sounding like these guys:

He’s really T’ing me off. I’m gonna kick his A.

Just talk about how you really feel and what you’re really dealing with. Not just what you dealt with many years ago, but what sins you dealt with earlier this morning. Just talking about things in a general way accomplishes nothing but glossing over the issue. If you’re a doctor, you don’t speak about cancer to your patient in general terms. You speak specifically about what kind of cancer it is, what the specific treatment is going to be. Let’s do the same. Let’s not gloss it over with phrases like, “I’m really struggling with sin” or “There’s a lot of gray area.” Just be specific!


 

This wraps up my series on talking about the “hard stuff” in church. Would love to dialogue with you about it if you want to discuss anything I’ve said. Just shoot me an e-mail at zacharyhornereu@gmail.com or tweet at me at @zacharyhorner.


 

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