Just as I am (Part 1) — Why is it So Hard to be Vulnerable in Church?

by | Church Communication, Leadership, Team Development

The piano beckoned, as the choir sang, and the minister seemed to be calling my name personally.  The words of the beloved hymn invited me forward, “Just as I am.” My heart melted in the warm embrace of coming forward to give my life to Jesus.  The whole congregation seemed to be cheering me on.  Can you recall a similar moment in your own life?

I think we’ve all had a moment such as this, where we pushed past inner wrestling with our fear and shame to receive the gift of Christ’ embrace.  These moments literally changed our lives.   Every believer has a grid for this internally, where we’ve crossed over that river of self-reliance and acknowledged our sin, brokenness, and total need for God.

Our desperate need was met by the open arms of our Father.  In that moment we found love in a way that we never had before.  Not only were we set free from sin, but through this spiritual encounter we felt the tangible experience of love.

From the moment of our births, God hard-wired us with a deep need for connection.  “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:28).  Connection with God is vital, and we also need connection with other humans.  We are born into this world looking for someone to hold us and comfort us in our moments of deepest need.  We are looking for the tangible experience of love which is given to us through human attachment. 

If we are fortunate, we find ourselves tenderly cared for by a sensitive and responsive caregiver when we are young.  This is usually our mother, but it could be another person.  When our caregiver provides for our early needs with face-to-face gazing, tender touch, and accurate emotional responses then we will develop the best type of bond with him or her. 

The best bond is called Secure Attachment, and it meets our deeply-felt need for connection with other humans.  In this Secure Attachment we have the assurance that we can run into the arms of our caregiver in moments of great need.  We also know that we can bring forward our questions and even our doubts without fear of being controlled or rejected.

Let’s go back to that story of our first moments in accepting Christ, “Just as I am.”  It all seems to start well, with words of welcome and heartfelt embrace flowing from our Father and also from His children.  Many times we enjoy an early season of wonder and support from our church family as the new kids in the family.  They seem so glad to have us join, and they work hard at taking steps to let us know that we belong as part of the family.

But too many of us also experience a breakdown in the family unity as our relationship develops with our local church.   We fall prey to sibling rivalry, when other believers judge us for our lack of progress in the maturation process of growing as Christians.  Other times, our fellow Christians may actually apply harshness or control to their dealings with us, reminiscent of their own experiences in the families they grew up in.

Rather than encouraging us to grow, ask questions, or even to learn by making mistakes, our brothers and sisters in Christ often treat us as objects of belief.  “Do you believe the same as me? Are we like minded, or are you a threat to me?”

Depending on our current or past experiences, we may come to anticipate criticism from our peers, “Will you see my flaws and pass judgment on me?”  Other believers are gripped with a somber sense of responsibility as gatekeepers of the faith, and they can come across as quite controlling.  

Is it any wonder that we struggle being vulnerable and open with our fellow believers? 

Our words and relationships with one another have the power to do so much good.  Conversely,  they have the power to tear down and stumble (James 3:8,9).

We’ve got to do a better job as believers in extending and fostering that warm acceptance that we first offered to folks who had newly accepted Christ.  Our lives and church families should be a living testimony to the grace that was so freely given to us.  I am not advocating for sloppy grace where we tolerate sin.  “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2, NIV).  

However, I am longing for church families that embody the core features of Secure Attachment.  We should be a place of refuge to turn to one another with our struggles and find comfort in our greatest need.  The church could truly be a launching point from which we branch out to minister and explore our faith, having the confidence that we can come back to share whatever challenges we have experienced. 

Attachment is the tangible experience of love, and it is the means by which we can fulfill what Jesus instructed us to do.  “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34, 35, NIV).

If we could create church environments that consistently embodied the key elements of Secure Attachment, then the world would stand back in amazement.  In the words of the ancient church father Tertullian,

“See how these Christians love one another!”

Our confessions to one another (James 5:16) would be honest and vulnerable if we were truly undergirded by emotional safety.  We could turn to one another for support with our deepest struggles, instead of preserving our image on Sunday mornings.  We could live stronger, knowing that we are not alone.

We would be healthier and more authentic, exploring our doubts and fears with one another instead of pretending that we have it all together.  Jesus himself honored the faith of a man who was desperately seeking healing for his son.  This father boldly said,  “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).  Jesus healed the boy and honored this type of faith as an example for countless believers who would follow, sometimes having their own moments of uncertainty.  

In addition to the charitable things we do for others, our church family life would be a place of safety and security which nourishes and sustains our ongoing growth towards maturity. 

Principles of Secure Attachment can speak volumes to us about how to create this kind of climate in our church families.  Let’s delve into these together more deeply as we explore applying the power of attachment, first in our own lives and then sharing this strength with our church families.

This is the first in 4 part series that we will share together as we explore key concepts in attachment.  Keep tuning into Worship Facility in the weeks ahead for the next three parts.  In the meantime you may check out facetofaceliving.com to explore other rich resources related to attachment. 

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