Messy Church

If there is not some form of tension, conflict, or person that annoys you I strongly doubt you are plugged into a local church.

One of the best analogies of the local church is the family of God. God is perfect, but the family can be a bit dysfunctional.

I believe we need healthy practices in the local church. I believe we need to practice Matthew 18 and talk to people instead of about people. I believe we should do everything we can to unify and not offend people with our actions because the Gospel of Jesus is offensive enough. Let me unpack that.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18.

In a world where inclusion and politically correct thinking is highly valued the gospel stands out like a groom wearing his birthday suit to his wedding. Typically a suit is required at a wedding, and a man who is wearing his birthday suit would be uncomfortably awkward at a wedding. No matter how much he tries to explain he got the wardrobe mixed up it’s going to be awkward. If you catch my drift.

Christians have found the power of God that comes from Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus’ truth will push against cultural truths that seem to always be changing. His truth will also push against religious institutions that are more focused on being a holy huddle than a hospital for sinners.

If sinners don’t feel comfortable around Christians while at the same time being challenged in their life choices something is wrong. At the same time if the religious elite don’t feel uncomfortable around a follower of Jesus because of who they are investing in then something is wrong.

The local church should be the healthiest place on earth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t messy.

People are messy.

Lives are messy.

Faith is messy.

Jesus practiced a life that made religious people uncomfortable. At times Christians seem to focus on making religious people feel comfortable while working hard tick off those that don’t believe.

There are so many different views and opinions on Scripture that there is no doubt many will disagree with my understanding. And that’s okay. We can disagree and still be friends.

Religion is about hard lines that distinguish who is in and who is out. The Church is unique in that it welcomes all different races, people groups, and opinions. And then it asks all to check their identity at the door and become united by one common thought…Jesus.

The early Christians had difficulty in breaking down the cultural barriers. You had classes of people who didn’t associate with each other now sitting next to each other in Church.

The Apostle Paul addresses this,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:2.

Outside of the church walls we find our identity by what we do, like, or associate with. As a Christian we check our identity at the door and become united as one in Jesus.

So there should be UNC and Duke fans sitting next to each other at church. There should be democrats and republicans hanging out with each other at church. There should be those who have a past and those who are sheltered living life together. There should be those who are more liberal conversing with those that are more conservative. There should be messy conversations, relationships, and decisions.

If there is not some mess, the church becomes a country club for exclusive members instead of a hospital for broken people.

I believe we need all types of churches to reach all types of people. I’m thankful that we have so many options. At the same time so many options has made it easy to leave a church as soon as it gets a little messy.

What we find is that every church we go to has some mess.

There are no perfect churches.

Let me give an example of this. Statistics show that if a person gives back by volunteering there is a high probability that they will stay at a church. At the same time if someone doesn’t get involved there is a high probability that after 12 months they will check out.

So…I believe anyone can volunteer at the church. That’s not always a popular opinion. It doesn’t have to be every churches’ opinion, but it is mine. We don’t take sin resumes at the door. So, anyone, no matter their beliefs can volunteer.

At the same time we have higher standards for those in spiritual authority.

This is where things get messy.

We all have sin and yet there are certain behaviors that prohibit a person from being in a position of spiritual authority. We try to hold those in spiritual authority to a higher standard and it’s messy.

It’s not always black and white. It’s not easy. It involves tough conversations. It involves lots of prayer. It involves an abundance of grace.

As a sinner I’m still allowed to preach every week by the grace of God. At the same time there are some things that would disqualify me from preaching. That’s a tough tension to manage.

What happens so often is when someone messes up we reject them from the community and cut them off. Somehow we have to love a broken person through their sin while maintaining convictions. It’s so messy.

Is it possible to love someone so much that they stick around even when they know you disagree with them? The local Church should be able to answer this with a resounding…YES!


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Rob Shepherd

I am the full-time husband of a wonderful woman! I love being married! We are proud parents to twins, Hayden and Reese. In my spare time I am the pastor of Next Level Church. I have a relationship with God and it is an adventure. Oh and I wrote a book. It's called Even If You Were Perfect Someone Would Crucify You.


  1. Imsureyouknow
    July 24, 2017

    I know people always say that they feel as though a pastor was talking directly to them, but your entire blog is my real life situation right now. This is exactly why I was upset that day you asked me if I was ok.
    I was asked not to return to a certain church when I came out as being gay. My heart was broken. Trust me, I understand what the bible says about my life. I have read it and I have heard it preached to me a million times. For those of you not in my shoes, you just can’t understand my life choices. That is fine. However, do not preach to me to love like Jesus and then kick me out of your church. That is not ever going to change my way of thinking. It only clarifies it.
    A few months after being kicked out of that church, I was brave enough to walk into a different church. I was open about who I was and even emailed the church prior to attending to ask if my family would be welcome. I was told absolutely. I was told that while they do not believe that my relationship is what God had intended for marriage, they do believe it is their job to love me as I am. I was told I would always have a home there and wouldn’t ever be treated any differently. I was thrilled. While I continued to struggle with who I am and the decisions I had made for my life, I finally felt as though just maybe God really does love me. I had found my home.
    For years, I volunteered and took part in different small groups. I even asked about becoming a leader of a volunteer team and was honored to take on that position for the last 18 months. I took pride in knowing that my volunteer area would be taken care of each week. As the leader, I made sure my area was well staffed, procedures/timelines were followed and I committed to volunteer every week.
    Things were great, I loved my church and was even asked to lead a team for a special annual event. I gladly took on the challenge. I recruited others to help me, lead them in prayer at the beginning of the event (read a prewritten prayer from a card) and was instructed to encourage them to join a group within the church. I did just that and I loved every minute of it. During that event, several of my volunteers were interested in getting involved with a group. However, no one wanted to try it out alone and they all suggested I take on that challenge. Little did I know – this would be the beginning of the end of my love for the church.
    I asked the leadership if I could lead a group and I was told no. I did say that I understood, but I was heartbroken and devastated. I remember being told that I could not provide spiritual guidance to anyone in their building. I honestly did not view a group leader as a spiritual guide. I viewed a group leader as someone to “facilitate” the meeting of the group, keep things moving and lead the discussion (not necessarily be the provider of all biblical knowledge).
    Soon after this, some leadership qualifications came to change at the church. Things became more job like and less God like. I inquired about why I was allowed to lead a volunteer team, but not allowed to lead a group. Time went by and my leadership status was still in the air.
    Eventually, I was brought into a room and told that they understand I have been sent mixed messages and that they had to come to the decision to not allow me to lead any groups (volunteer or small group) at their church. While I held it together in that moment, I was crushed. The one place that made me feel like God loves me is the same place that just confirmed He doesn’t. Of course, they will still allow me to volunteer my time for them. I just cannot lead.
    It IS messy. I am hurt. I am disappointed. I want to leave the church. I want to run away from God. I want to give up. I feel like an outcast at the one place that made me feel like I belonged.
    I told them I would continue to volunteer because I wanted to be the bigger person. After all, I wasn’t volunteering for the pastor of the church or for anyone that works there. I was volunteering for the people coming through the doors. I knew when I was there, my area was taken care of. Every person got a smile, a held hand, a hug, a good morning, etc. I loved my volunteer spot. If me being there each week can help bring someone to Jesus, I wanted to be there.
    However, this last week – I told them that I quit. I hate that I quit because I know I will miss it. I know people will ask why I quit and I will have to tell them that I’m not good enough for Jesus.
    Again, you are correct. It is messy. I don’t want to leave the church because I have children and my children love it there. They have had so much change in their lives because of me and I don’t want this to be another one. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to feel.

    There is a verse of a Matthew West song that I would like to sing to them. It’s from his song, Broken Things…
    The pages of history they tell me it’s true
    That’s it’s never the perfect, it’s always the ones with the scars that you use.
    It’s the rebels and the prodigals, it’s the humble and the weak
    The misfit heroes You chose
    Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

    • July 24, 2017

      Thank you for sharing this part of your story. You were incredibly vulnerable and I greatly appreciate that.

      The grace, compassion, and strength you are showing is amazing.

      There will always be a situation that the church has to wrestle with. It’s so messy and your situation is a perfect example of it. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for not giving up on Jesus or the church. If I can do anything for you please don’t hesitate to reach out.

  2. Lauren Cory
    July 25, 2017

    My friend Kim and I were talking about this very topic last night during our Bible Study. About the touch conversations of sharing truth in love, and how we are all broken, sinful people. And how our church recently had to make a decision about having certain people in leadership. They were allowed to volunteer, but not lead based on some of their life decisions. Very difficult, very messy indeed. But praying and hoping all of us who encounter those messy relationships and conversations are seeking Christ and His love in and through it all. We won’t always get it right. Actually, often we will probably get it wrong, but there is grace for that. Thanks for this post Rob. Always love your insight through your blog.

    • July 26, 2017

      Lauren, that is a such a tough topic and decision. I pray for grace for everyone involved.

  3. July 26, 2017

    Insightful, and full of grace as always. Your’s is an important voice in the church today. Keep blogging along!


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