Rumor has it the church is a place for people who’ve got their act together. People who will tell you how well everything is going. People who think pretty highly of themselves.
We can see where this rumor started. We like to make a good impression on a Sunday morning. To an outsider, going to church might look like an exercise in polishing the image of people who think they are already halfway to heaven.
But it’s a false rumor, and it’s not the gospel. Jesus said he came for the sick, not the healthy. He called the sinners, not the righteous. Yet the church appears to have a different target audience. Perhaps that’s because we cover our flaws and try to look perfect.
A denomination can do this just as well as an individual Christian. Why reveal our disputes and problems? That’s not very “missional.” We do so much that is good. This is what the world needs to know. The messy parts can stay behind closed doors. We have a reputation to protect.
Except that people can tell when someone is trying to sell them something.
Recently the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches announced it will shut down its magazine, Mennonite Brethren Herald, at the end of the year. Leaders plan to replace it with a publication that will “rally churches around our mission to ‘multiply Christ-centered churches to see Canada transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.’ ” The denomination’s communications strategy is “increasingly mission-focused” as it seeks to reach “as broad an audience as possible.”
It is not possible to say for sure how the new publication will differ from the Herald, because conference leaders haven’t given any details. But the fact that the Herald is being shut down strongly suggests that what comes next will be very different. And if the difference is a lack of freedom to critique the leadership, to report the bad news and to be a forum for diverse voices, the denomination will have suffered a significant loss.
Public relations has its place. Every organization needs it. But it is no substitute for a free press.
On Facebook, Canadian MB members lamented the end of the Herald. One said the people, not just the leaders, need a voice. Another said the church shouldn’t be afraid that airing disagreements or reporting problems will drive newcomers away. The church doesn’t need protection. It needs honesty.
Denominations need to recognize that open debate and unfettered reporting build respect for the church and promote engagement with the issues it faces. Good news is more credible when it comes from a source that tells the bad as well. True discernment requires hearing more than one point of view.
Some people probably wish all their religious reading was comfortable. They’d like to keep minority opinions out of sight. But many want an honest look at who we are. They can tell when a person or a church puts up an everything-is-awesome facade. Trying to appear perfect only results in hypocrisy.
Maybe people aren’t looking for a perfect church but an honest and real one.