A recent bipolar diagnosis shocks the group. Cancer ravages the health of a young wife and mother. An impending divorce threatens to tear apart a marriage, family, and community. A member struggling with same-sex attraction searches for ways to share his struggle. The lone black man in the small group is peppered yet again with questions about racism. The single mom cries out for help with her teenage son. A young couple struggles to accept that they can’t have biological children. The widow, married for more than six decades, gropes for reasons to go on. A father of six children shares the news of his recent layoff.
Life is hard and broken. Christian clichés aren’t going to cut it in the unavoidable messiness of realities like these.
Community Is Messy
“Let God use the messiness to make you and others more like him.”
Christian community — in the local church, in small group, missional community, or wherever else — is messy. If our friends are plunging headlong into a dark place, someone needs to go after them. And we have no quick fixes for the deep wounds we face: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, broken relationships, miscarriage, loneliness, unemployment, deteriorating health, wayward children, death of a parent, disability, and the list literally goes on and on.
Life is messy. For some of us, that scares us to no end. We don’t know what to say, what to do, how to engage, or how to help. Many step into community tentatively, secretly hoping it will not be messy. We want good friends, loving community, and easy, comfortable, enjoyable conversation. But the reality is that every true Christ-centered community will have its difficulties.
Christian community, by necessity and design, is messy. We are sinners, the world is broken, and God is at work. In the gospel story he has written, his grace and love shine more beautifully than ever in the messiness of our lives.
The gospel helps us to move from risk-adverse and messiness-avoiding people to those who lean into one another when the pain and confusion come. The gospel transforms naturally self-centered people into those who selflessly serve others. The gospel transforms, over time, a proud and arrogant man into a humble man willing to ask for help. The gospel turns an ingrown, self-absorbed group into one welcoming to the spiritual seeker. The gospel generates generosity in a community to help make the dream of adoption a reality for a couple. The gospel motivates a group to fold a widow in and become her new family. The gospel slowly mends a broken marriage through consistent Bible study, prayer, and encouragement.
In the darkest moments, the gospel of Jesus Christ shines its brightest and most brilliant.
“In the darkest moments of life and ministry, Jesus Christ shines even more brightly and brilliantly.”
The tragic irony is that we hide. We throw a rug over the vomit of our lives sitting in the middle of the room. We withdraw when our blood pressure rises. We recoil when tempers flare. We pull back when we’ve been offended. We lean away when sin is exposed.
In these moments, we must battle our natural instincts, and trust our growing gospel instincts, to lean into the mess. It’s not easy. It’s never easy. But as we lean in together with his people, guided by his Spirit, and dependent on his grace and help, God brings hope and healing.
Wanted: Broken People
God always works the mess for good, for those who love him. He has designed the body of Christ such that every member, even the broken ones — especially the broken ones — are needed. In God’s plan, the broken and needy ones are often the ones we need most.
The apostle Paul says, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. . . . If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?” (1 Corinthians 12:15, 17). We need every single part. We need the feet, even those with ingrown toenails. We need ears, mouths, and noses. No part is indispensable. That means we need the broken and hurting among us just as much as we need the spiritually mature. We need those who suffer from mental disability, physical infirmity, or broken hearts as much as we need those who are doing well and flying high.
Some Sunday mornings, I sit next to a young man who has Down syndrome. He is filled with the joy of Christ and sings with more gusto than anyone around him. He has a bigger smile on his face than anyone I know, and he always greets me heartily. He serves me by reminding me of the excitement and exuberance that should accompany the worship of God with his people. This young man — who has lived all his life with a disability — reveals the beauty of joyful and uninhibited praise. He reminds me worship isn’t about me, but God. I need that reminder. I need him.
Lean into Community
Bearing one another’s burdens and forgiving one another is messy. But let God use the messiness to make you and others more like him. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:21–22).
“God does his best work in and through us when we seek to serve one another, especially in our messiness.”
Whether you are a hand, a foot, or a big toe with a bunion, the body of Christ needs you. It won’t be easy — for anyone — but we need each other, and the reminder that God does his brightest work in our messiness. When we walk with one another through joys and trials, we’ll better see the transforming power of the gospel.
God does his best work in and through us when we seek to serve one another, especially when we run out of answers, quick fixes, and clichés, so that we point others directly to Jesus and his cross.