I used to have a problem with inspirational speakers. Those people with big smiles, big teeth, and their big stories about their big God; how they used to struggle with (fill in the blank), but now they are over it, thank you Jesus. As I said, they used to bug me, but now I am at peace with them. Let me tell you how.
Actually, scratch that. They still irritate me. Because, after hearing them, I often end up feeling worse rather than better. They may have intended to squeeze my heart, but it feels like they have ended up poking around at the bits in my eye. I don’t hear, You can do this! Instead I hear, Why haven’t you done this, already?
Call them mote-ivational speakers.
Here’s my problem: it’s not so much to do with the individual things they may say as the collective, silent statement we make in our churches when every message is “I used to be… but now I am…” It says: we can’t talk about things until we have got them sorted out. We can only admit to past problems, not present challenges. Rather than drawing people out, it can easily send them further underground.
I think that’s why so many people find life and hope in recovery communities. No one there pretends they have it all together. They’re all fellow strugglers, but as they hear others share their stories they can find encouragement, insight, and even guidance. Some churches could learn a lot.
In their wonderful book The Cure, John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall capture the essence of what is so appealing about a place of grace, where it is OK not to have it all together:
What if it was less important that anything ever gets fixed than that nothing has to be hidden?
Of course there’s a place for speaking from a position of victory. We need to hear from people who have endured, who have persevered, who have come through. We can be inspired to reach for more for ourselves, and instructed how to do so.
But only ever hearing from people standing on the top of the mountain, telling you how great the view is, when you’re trudging through the valley gets old after a while.
I’d love to hear this from the pulpit one Sunday morning: “Hello, so glad you are all here. I hope you’ve had a good week, because mine sucked big-time. There’s been family problems, a big headache with the church finances, and God has felt miles away for the past couple of days.
“But, you know, it’s not about me. He is unchanging and true. So let’s see what His Word might have for us all today…”