I have had a number of conversations within the last year with both people that have grown up in church along with those that only attended during their teen years. All of these conversations have had one thing in common. Each story has involved things I was unaware while in ministry. I believe that many pastors are in similar positions. As such I have listed the top three issues that have come up during my conversations.
1. Hidden Sin Is Real. All pastors know that there are things that people within their congregations and communities struggle with. However I think they would be shocked to know just who is struggling with what. After each conversation I had what shocked me the most was who told me what they had done. Most of the sexual sin and alcohol abuse was from those that would have been considered the “good church” people. It would be unrealistic to say that you can put an end to all the hidden sin. However, as pastors, you can put ministries into place that allow openness, accountability and community. Give people a safe place to go and a reason to go there.
2. Don’t Assume They Believe You. A mistake that many pastors make is assuming that when they speak those in the pew believe and listen to what they have to say. In truth many people in the pew, especially the students, are their because their parents make them show up. This isn’t to say that everyone in the pews of your church doesn’t want to be there. However this might very well mean a bigger percentage than one would think. Many people are coming because its “their church” or they feel as if they “have to come”. Knowing this, present your message in such a way that someone that does believe in Christ can grow from it as well as questions and elements that engage those that don’t believe and encourage them to become a part of the discussion.
3. Be Knowledgeable About The “Bubble”. The bubble is the wall between their church life and their real life. Almost every teenager has a bubble that separates these two worlds and many of them carry it on into adulthood if they don’t pop it themselves when they leave the church after college. If pastors and leaders are not aware of these bubbles within the lives of those that attend their churches then both problems mentioned above will be assured to happen. Bubbles exist only because we, as humans, know that we are expected to act certain ways around certain people. If the church puts forth a culture and community of openness to questions and a clear teaching on sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection the bubbles might start to disappear.
My hope in this is not to discourage pastors or to make them more paranoid about their people. I simply want to bring light to something that I was unaware of for so long. Many of the students and lay people that I assumed had much of the Bible figured out, or at least understood what Jesus had done for them, were in fact dealing with the secret sins that all those outside of the church choose not to hide. As pastors we must be aware that no one is excluded from the weight of sin and that when we preach it must never be with the idea that they already understand and are already saved. Preach to encourage, grow, convict and save.