I recently finished reading the book Dream Team, by Jack McCallum. If you’re even remotely a fan of professional basketball, I’d highly recommend picking it up, as it provides a fascinating look at how some of the most cutthroat competitors in the history of sports managed to put aside their professional rivalries long enough to win Olympic gold, decimate its competition, and change the face of international basketball forever.
The book is also a virtual treasure trove of memorable quotes, many of which could not be printed here without a disclaimer for language. Most of my favorites came from the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, current TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley. Of all Sir Charles’ quotes that are fit to mention, his legendary answer to a pregame question concerning upcoming opponent Angola still ranks as my favorite: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Angola. But Angola’s in trouble.”
I was reminded of that quote this evening as I read over an article concerning the suddenly very troubled Mars Hill Church. I knew pastor Mark Driscoll had stepped down, and I knew at least one other pastor on the church’s staff had done the same. Prior to reading the aforementioned article, though, I could only claim a Barkley-esque knowledge of the situation: I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill. But Mars Hill is in trouble.
Rewind just a couple of days, though, and you would have found me sitting a table following the service at my own church involved in a conversation with a friend in which I was discussing some troubles of my own. This came after he had mentioned some of his own struggles. And the service itself had featured some pretty open discussions on authenticity and transparency (See this post for more on that.). Go back even further, and you would have found me watching a movie about the personal struggles of the late Rich Mullins and listening to author Heather Kopp talk about her life as a Christian drunk.
So maybe this is what I should be asking: Is my friend in trouble? More to the point, am I in trouble?
Well, yes, we probably both are. The fact is, though, I’m running across more and more stories of Christians being in trouble. The big difference I’m noticing today, though, is that more and more Christians are actually admitting to being in trouble, whether that’s confessing their bouts with depression, acknowledging their struggles with lust, owning up to their poor financial habits, or just straight-out saying, “Hey, I’m a sinner, and I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to stop what I’m doing.”
But wait, wait, wait. I thought Christianity was supposed to clean you up. I thought it was supposed to make you happy all the time. I thought it was supposed to end all your addictions. I thought it was supposed to put me in a position to show the sinners of the world how to live a spotless life. If it is, I’m doing it wrong. A lot of us are doing it wrong. And a lot of us are coming clean about why we think we’re doing it wrong.
Since the “we” I’m referring to here consists not of lost souls but of Christians, I suppose it could be asked whether the church itself is in trouble. That would be an easy assumption to make. Our houses of worship seemed to be packed with sad people, addicted people, tempted people, hurting people, and frightened people. At times, we don’t seem to be that much different from those who are not Christians. And sometimes we’re not even sure we can claim a difference anyway.
I would contend, though, that all this is not a sign of the church being in trouble. I view it as a sign the church is waking up. And I think that’s a good thing.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As the famous quote goes, the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. The fact that people are coming forward in honest confession is, in my opinion, a sign that the church is coming to terms with reality. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we can’t turn to the church to help us overcome our sins and hangups, where can we turn?
I still don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill, but I do know this: When the church becomes a place where the imperfect Christian can feel safe and where the broken and imperfect can go for restoration, the glory of God will be revealed there. Maybe a little trouble is just what we need.