When Keeping It Real Gets Kept Real

Yesterday I did a fine little piece on church marketing and the desire to make your church appear awesome with no problems. I said “Let’s stop pretending we’re slick and let’s get real with how messy regular life is.”

Now, that’s the kind of statement that in some contexts would irritate me. This phrase could be the definition of the cool buzzword “transparency.”

I have no interest in your transparency (see my past post entitled “Transparent People: Please Shut Up“).


Transparency sounded like a good idea at the time and probably was. There is nothing more irritating than churchy, fakeness. Let me correct that, listening to my son chew gum is more irritating, but other than that, there is nothing.

So, Christians have gotten the idea to be “more real,” show ourselves “warts and all.” We decide what foibles and sins to admit and then celebrate our courage in admitting the weaknesses we’re actually quite content with and just want you to “understand” so we don’t have to like, you know, take care of them and perhaps grow up.

Again, some of this is good. Then we have this kind of stuff.

“Nadia Bolz-Weber bounds into the University United Methodist Church sanctuary like a superhero from Planet Alternative Christian. Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans. Looking out at the hundreds of people crowded into the pews to hear her present the gospel of Jesus Christ.”


Now, I know I’m supposed to be all gushy about this, someone is keeping it real in the church, and hey, it seems to be working. “If it saves one soul isn’t it worth it?”

I imagine God will answer that question satisfactorily.

This is what most think “getting real with how messy life is” looks like. But there is very little real about this either.

As the article itself says “Bolz-Weber’s appeal is unquestionably part packaging.” I would say it’s all packaging.

Celebrating brazenness, normalizing sin and flaunting liberty have no place in church. None. Read the New Testament sometime to figure that out (start with Romans 14).

Yes, yes, I know Paul said to be all things to all people. Someone with this much packaging is not trying to be all things to all people. She is trying to be all her to all people so all people notice her. And yes, I do feel qualified to make that judgment.

I use her as an example because it’s the latest one I saw. I hope she does indeed know Christ and I hope she can help someone else know Christ.

I find this sort of thing troubling. This does not smack me as “real.” This smacks me as a way to make money and get popular and further divert attention from the point of church.

My call for the church to be real about the messiness of life means to deal with reality, not to wear costumes and put on shows that appear as though they were real. God did not send His Son to keep you celebrating your past real; He came to form you into the Real Real–conformity to Christ.

My sincere desire is that the Church would be a refuge for truth-thirsty people tired of being played to. To me, that’s as real as it can possible get.


3 thoughts on “When Keeping It Real Gets Kept Real”

  1. The picture you shared speaks a very loud message: “Look at me!” This is contrary to the message of the Bible, Isaiah 45:22 – “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” This is our great need…to look away from our wretchedness to His beauty.

    The Bible is deafly silent about the color of Abraham’s hair, or the shape of Elijah’s nose, or even the muscles of Samson. It is God that is to be glorified through the obedience and faith of His children. Even when Christ was a man, and healed people, it says, “they glorified God”. Isn’t it strange that they didn’t “glorify Christ”? But Jesus was so humble in appearance and behaviour, that there was nothing in Him that flesh could glory in. They had to glorify God, because it was apparent that the work was due to God, and not to the humble human agent.

    Paul, who by his own confession had a rather weak appearance, preached Christ so powerfully that He was set before the Galatians as “crucified”. Paul wasn’t the center of attention. I’ve seen a similar painting about Luther’s preaching, where it shows Luther pointing to a crucified Christ in front of the people. Luther himself never wanted people to be called “Lutherans.”

    John the Baptist had it right: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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