// broken church

empty church

I have been telling people for a while now that I have a passion for ‘broken church’ – church in the model of 2 Corinthians, made up of people who are aware of their own brokenness and need for God and who are subsequently passionate about honesty, integrity, support and love even in the presence of failure (see Rehab). All of which is fortunate, really, because on Sunday I start a ten-month internship at St. Aldate’s church in Oxford, living and working alongside thirteen others in a range of aspects of church life, and if anything models ‘broken church’, I am sad to say that it’s me…

Ever since I got accepted onto this internship it seems like i’ve been becoming more and more acutely aware of my flaws and the effect that those flaws have on wider church culture, as well as on my relationships with the people who surround me. That realisation feels like waking up, in some ways, but waking up from a warm and fuzzy dream world into the cold light of day. It forces me to remember that my actions have consequences, that, rather than being as independent as I claim to be, I am utterly reliant on others, and my character directly and unavoidably affects those people. On Sunday, I am walking back into a close community where it is going to be increasingly hard to hide those flaws – and, like it or not, they are going to come out sooner or later.

So this is me taking ownership of that fact.

For far too long I have been guilty of trying to be cool, trying to meet the right people (and impress them, of course) and to appear relevant and passionate and, I suppose, important – and in all honesty, it’s a sham. I have told people I am interested in justice and done nothing about justice issues; I have insisted on the importance of grace while I have had no grace at all in so many situations in my family and my church; I have claimed to be interested in service while serving only myself. I have used Christianity to make myself look good and to give myself an identity, and I am a hypocrite (and in case this sounds like self-pity, it’s okay; in all likelihood, there are areas where you are, too.)

I am loved in spite of it, covered by grace even in light of my many failings, but that’s no excuse.

Something has to change, and I have a distinct feeling that something has to be me.

I don’t say all of this lightly. I have written and re-written this post to try and make myself look better, or to try and make my situation more universal, to the extent that I nearly didn’t publish it at all. I don’t come out well from this. I know that. But I have spent years on the sidelines of churches, analysing and (in a lot of cases) criticising, and now i’ve ended up as a part of it and the question is whether I am any different…

In my heart, I am not. Every frustration I have with the churches I have attended I can fully understand, as, were I in the same situation, I would almost certainly do the same thing. Culture is built in the small, subtle things; in the attitudes that are in place when no-one is watching and in the way we act when silence falls. This applies as much to you as it does to me. Nobody changes the world overnight; changed culture and changed nations start with transformed character, at the absolute base level. It is, of course, God who who will have to do that, as I am not capable of doing it on my own…

But this is my acknowledgement of that fact. Like they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step is admitting that you have a problem. I am an addict. I am addicted to looking good, addicted to control, and to comfort, and, above all, I am addicted to the thought that God is not good.

On Sunday I am going back into a church community, and those attitudes and ideas are going to affect people and culture, whether I like it or not. But I am aware of them now, and so are you; and I am aware that I need your help, along with God’s, to deal with them – otherwise I could walk out in ten months having made a mess not just of myself, but also of the lives of others. If I can possibly help it, I’d really rather try and avoid doing that.

But I suppose, if the worst comes to the worst, I could always wash dishes for the next ten months.

I’m fairly sure that even I couldn’t make a mess of that.

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    • JoAnna
    • September 11th, 2009

    Tom,
    First off, congratulations on getting the internship with Aldates – I’m sure you will learn a lot and have fun while doing it.
    Secondly, thank you for putting yourself out there in this post. The vulnerability demonstrated here is probably what most of us Christians need to start with; as you said, admitting you have a problem is the first step. I definitely say I believe things but don’t act on them. I guess I just wanted to encourage you about living in close community with other believers, in particular your co-interns. I pray that it will be a transformational season in which you will all sharpen one another through love.
    I am so thankful that God made our paths cross and that you have this gift and love for expressing your thoughts and opinions. You truly are a blessing, even all the way on this side of the pond. 🙂
    JoAnna

  1. good to read this post… more Lord more!

    • Jym Dingler
    • October 16th, 2009

    I also struggle this way, working in a church, but always feeling unable to completely give myself over to what God wants at each moment. Sometimes I just break down in tears and then try again. Thanks for your honesty. (Jym, San Fransisco CA, USA)

  1. December 19th, 2009
  2. April 23rd, 2010

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