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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10 More Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church

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

11) Technology use. 

I love technology. I use it every day in my workplace and at home. There’s man-made rules and blog post after blog post within the church about the use of technology and how it might be ruining our society. It’s one of those things that I think we rarely sit back and think deeper about how it can be used for good and for the Gospel.

12) Body image.

I wrote a blog post about this back in April about how I’ve personally struggled with this issue. Because it’s such a personal thing, we shy away from it. It’s uncomfortable. But, like a lot of these topics, it’s something that needs to be discussed because people are struggling with this and they feel alone. Your body is something you see in the mirror every day. Therefore, if you struggle with this, it’s something that confronts you every day. So it’s vital to have conversations about it.

13) Absent parents.

As someone who loves spending time around teenagers, I’ve seen many who have one or two absent parents, parents that either abandoned them before birth or during their life or divorced each other. And I’ve seen the devastating effects that it’s had. This goes along with No. 3 in this list. Not only do we need to talk about it, we need to get more involved in these kids lives.

14) Social media.

This goes along with No. 11. How can we use social media to benefit the spreading of the Gospel and the glorifying of God? Also, what is the appropriate behavior of Christians on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter? It’s a gray area because the Bible doesn’t give us straight forward thoughts on it. But it’s worth talking about.

15) Profanity.

This might be the most divisive one on this list. Christians have sworn off (no pun intended) profanity for the most part, and I was once there. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized something. What is profanity but something that society says is profane? What makes a word in and of itself “sinful” to use? Scripture doesn’t have a list of words we shouldn’t use. In my opinion, it’s more about the thought and intention and the heart behind it. Just like we use stronger non-curse words to convey certain things, would it be the worst thing in the world if we used what might be considered a “curse word” to strongly emphasize how we feel about something? Since this is a gray area, I don’t know for sure. Something to talk about, but ideally not in a condemning way.

16) Pastors sinning.

This is a theme that recurs every once in a while when a pastor of a prominent evangelical church steps down because some sin in his life is revealed, whether by him or by someone else. There seems to be a push to forget about those people or condemn them for doing such a bad thing. Best example: Mark Driscoll (I wrote about it here). Shouldn’t we think about this differently? I doubt that Jesus would handle things the way we have. He used a bunch of sinful dudes. Why should we expect our pastors to be any different?

17) Hierarchy of sins.

This is a difficult topic that I don’t think I fully understand. Recently, it seems as if the evangelical community has placed homosexuality on the top of the pyramid of sins, over sexual sin in the church, over lying, over gossiping, over bitterness. I don’t know what the right answer is. What usually happens in conversations like this is personal opinions getting scattered all over the place, which makes things real tricky. Personally, I just struggle to think that one sin is more important than another save for what 1 Corinthians 6:18 says: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” But why do we make homosexuality more important?

18) Reformed theology.

The thing that ticks me off most about those in the Reformed camp is their arrogance about their theology. There, I said it. I’ve been there. I’ve been that arrogant one who won’t listen to anyone else or won’t consider that I might be wrong. I’ve been in that place where I’ve thought people who weren’t Reformed weren’t Christians. And there’s a lot of that in the Reformed evangelical camp. Why must we be so rigid to Calvinism nowadays? Have we ever considered that there’s more to Christianity than adhering to Reformed theology?

19) Consuming mainstream news media.

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a Toyota dealership right now getting my car worked on and Fox News is on the TV. Christians tend to flock to Fox News because it suits their worldview the best. That leads to a condemnation of MSNBC and CNN and more liberal news outlets. Can I be honest with y’all? I LOVE watching clips of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and old clips of The Colbert Report. They get it right more than any mainstream media effort. Anyways, who do we trust? What’s the right approach? This is tricky because people get offended and upset if you don’t agree with them.

20) Our own personal current screw-ups.

We’ll talk about the sins of the society, of others, of ourselves in the past all day long. But we shy away from talking about our current struggles. There is nothing more important to be talked about than this. If we say we believe in the Bible, we should be seeking to obey James 5:16 – “Confess your sins to one another.” There’s no qualification about who we confess to, how much we confess, when we confess, who should confess, etc. It’s simply, “Confess your sins to one another.” It’s hard and it sucks, but it’s so important to our own spiritual health and for the health of the church.

Check back soon for Part 5 – How do we talk about these things? What are some good ways to get the conversations started? 

10 Pieces of “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in Church

Note: This is the third part in a five-part series about talking about the hard stuff. Find the first part here, and the second part here

Enough prefacing. Here are 10 things we need to be talking about more or speaking about in a different way in the church context.

1) Sexual sin/addiction.

I’ve written about this before. The church often approaches this topic in one of two ways. Either we’re super condemning of it, and by default those who struggle with it, or we don’t talk about it at all. Especially overlooked in this area are pastors who fight against these things on a daily basis on a personal level. But this should be primary among our conversation topics because, as 1 Corinthians 6:18 reminds us, “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Since this kind of sin cuts deeper than every other sin, we must talk about this more and more.

2) Mental illness.

I wrote about this in the same post as sexual addiction/sin. I’m just going to quote that here:

When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

3) High school kids.

A lot of what I’ve heard in the church echoes a lot of what I hear in the education world in which I am currently employed when it comes to high schoolers. You judge it by the numbers, take little time to actually invest in the lives of students and speak disparagingly of the kids when you’re not around them. I was at church about a month ago when I overheard someone talking about some high school-aged kids they ran across while driving and they were super critical of them and their parents, without even having spent time with them. So we do talk about them, but we don’t take the time to actually invest, to consider them as people, to love them as we would want to be loved.

4) Actually loving LGBT people.

This one is particularly relevant. With the recent SCOTUS decision, there’s been a lot of talk of loving gay people but still standing for truth. Unfortunately, we spend more time standing for truth and not actually loving gay people. We also spend more time talking about what it means to stand for truth. Those are conversations that need to be had, yes, but let’s not forget to actually talk about what it means to actually love those in the LGBT community.

5) Alcohol.

The common narrative, particularly for young people, about alcohol is that it’s bad always, and you should never do it. We speak about the negative consequences of getting drunk and all that. Let’s not forget that it’s illegal if you’re under 21. Like sexual sin, we most often take a condemning approach instead of saying, “Hey, alcohol is illegal to consume if you’re under 21. Here’s the reasons why it’s not good for you to participate in consuming it. But once you turn 21, here’s how to be smart about it.” We’re too busy telling kids not to do something instead of why not and then how to be smart about it.

6) Feelings and emotions.

This is one that is particularly close to my heart because I deal with feelings and emotions in a more intimate way than most, at least that’s what I’ve been told. I sway back and forth with feelings and emotions sometimes by the minute, and it can drive me up the wall without any real reason for those feelings. This one can be tied in with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Anyways, I don’t feel like I’ve read much in how to deal with feelings and emotions in a proper way, other than the occasional conversation or blog post on dealing with anxiety or stress. It’s a tricky subject to discuss because it’s different for everybody. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

7) Racism.

There isn’t a better time than now to be honest about this and have in-depth, personal, loving, gracious discussion.

8) “Secular” music.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that we handle this wrong most of the time, particularly with youth. We act as if this is the end-all, be-all problem, that if only we could get them to listen to Christian music alone we could fix them. Not all “secular” music is bad. In fact, there’s some that have positive messages that I’m pretty sure Jesus would endorse in songs like “Honey, I’m Good.” by Andy Grammer (even though it has three pieces of profanity) and even “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West (even though it has much more profanity). For the most part, we just write it off without giving it time.

9) Dating relationships/marriage.

Gosh, I feel like I was never prepared properly for dating. It became so much about “seeking God’s will” that I would quit relationships or pursuing relationships whenever I “felt like” God was “calling” me away from dating. It was such an unstable mindset to have. I’m afraid that, to single people, we’re not always honest about all the difficulties in feelings especially. The proper expectations aren’t discussed, and therefore things become particularly uncomfortable and awkward. Yes, we can never be fully prepared for dating because it’s different things for different couples, but we could do so much better than we are now if we actually talked about it honestly with guys and girls.

10) The Gospel.

If we actually dove deep enough into the Gospel, I think it would shatter what we view as Christianity. Christianity is so much more than being good enough. It’s being not good enough and seeing Jesus be good enough for us. If we let the Gospel permeate our faith as it should, we’d have a whole different approach to this thing we call life. We’d be able to see that sin is just a part of who we are. We’d be able to see that we will sin the rest of our life. We’d be able to see that it’s OK that we do that because Jesus was sinless for us. We’d be able to see that no one is beyond saving, that God can redeem the harshest of sinners. But that kind of talk is crazy, right?

Check back soon for part 4 – 10 More Pieces “Hard Stuff” We Need to Talk About More/Differently in the Church.

10 Reasons Why We Don’t Talk About the Hard Stuff in Church

I’ve been watching a lot of How I Met Your Mother recently, and I love it. It’s funny, it’s relatable, and the characters are just awesome.

Two of the characters, the married couple Marshall and Lily, have a rule in their relationship where they can hit “pause” on a serious conversation if they need to deal with something else in their life that’s more pressing. Sometimes they use it to get out of talking something hard because it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes one of them uses it in spite of the other’s insistence on continuing the conversation.

We like to use the pause button in our lives, often before the difficult conversations even happen. This happens quite a bit in the church.

I love writing about difficult subjects, particularly writing in ways that people don’t normally write about them. Not that I haven’t been accused of being one of those “middle class white bloggers” you hear so much about nowadays. But my passion is to look at subjects from a different angle, to take a perspective you may not see in the mainstream Christian media.

So when it comes to tackling topics like sex, racism, politics, depression/anxiety, etc., I’m willing to talk about it, willing to approach it. But that doesn’t mean I never have second thoughts about it or never get scared about writing about it.

As I examined my own mind and heart about the issue, I came up with 10 reasons why people – including myself – don’t want to talk about difficult subjects, particularly in the church context. They aren’t in any alphabetical or importance order, just listed out in the order I came up with them.


1) It usually involves admitting weakness. And we don’t want to admit to the world (or even ourselves) that we’re weak.

When we talk about sensitive issues like lust or racism, we’re forced to confront the weakness in our own lives. When I think about racism, I have to confront my own internal prejudices and the fact that I have bits and pieces of it in me. When we talk about sins or difficult cultural issues, we begin to understand that we don’t have everything figured out. But we don’t want to show that to people.

2) You don’t want to mess the status quo of how things go. You don’t want to interrupt how events go down.

Usually when you go to church, there’s already an established way things happen. People come, go to Sunday school or the main service, chat about their weeks, complain about their kids/spouses/jobs, then go to lunch and go home. Actually talking about the serious issues will force you to slow down and do things a little differently.

3) You don’t want to feel awkward.

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that adage – “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.” Whether that’s true or not, talking about difficult things is uncomfortable for people. It’s awkward. It’s a natural human emotion that most people try to stay away from. They don’t relish it. So if you avoid the hard topics, you’ll avoid the awkwardness that comes with it.

4) You don’t want to burden people with your problems or the hard things.

This one is a somewhat legitimate concern. We are usually aware that people have a lot going on, and the last thing we want to do is add onto their stress with our problems and issues. So we hold onto the hard topics and the difficulties in our lives.

5) We live in an Instagram filter culture where we alter everything we do to appeal to people to make them like it/us.

We like to take out all the flaws and all the blemishes in our photos so that people can see them and like them. We love getting the notifications on our phone that say “(insertusernamehere) likes your photo.” Bringing up the hard stuff usually won’t get those kind of likes, either on us or what we say. We want the easy likes.

6) We don’t believe the Gospel applies to Christians. We believe that we’re required by law to be perfect.

Because we believe that, we believe that we have to put off this view of ourselves as perfect to be considered a “good Christian.” Talking about our weaknesses or the hard things and how they relate to us diminishes the Jesus in us in some way. Forget that being a Christian means being weak.

7) People are afraid of the potential of being talked about in a negative context.

I struggle with this sometimes. Maybe by bringing up the hard subjects, I think, people might talk about me weirdly behind my back, criticizing how I handle issues or my own personal life. And goodness gracious, I don’t want people to talk about me negatively.

8) We’ll talk about it, but only at the relevant time in the culture.

You can see this with racism and homosexuality in recent weeks. It’s difficult to talk about, but if it’s relevant in the culture, we’ll discuss it. If there’s not been any recent news about depression or suicide in the mainstream, we’ll avoid it. Same thing about pornography or sex trafficking. Same thing about youth and drugs.

9) We view church as a country club for good, clean people, not a recovery meeting for bad, dirty Christians.

Church has become a place where everybody dresses in their “Sunday best,” not just in clothing but also in attitude and conversation topic. We view church all wrong.

10) We don’t like doing difficult things.

Simple as that. Just like we avoid awkwardness, we avoid hard things. Talking about serious issues is hard and requires effort. It’s kryptonite for a lazy person, hard to overcome. And sometimes we think that it’s too hard to deal with, so we just don’t try.


None of these reasons are good reasons, by the way.

As I was working through these, I had to ask myself if I still deal with any of these. And I sure do. Nos. 2, 4, 7 and 10 are particularly relevant to me right now. I want people to like me, just like everybody else. But if we as a body of Christ are going to actually move forward, then we desperately need to have these hard conversations.

There are also 10 reasons why we should talk about difficult things, particularly in the church. But that’s the next post.