Messy Desks, Messy Church


This is for anyone who’s ever been scolded for being too MESSY!  

According to researchers at the University of Minnesota  “people working in their messy office come up with more imaginative ideas” because, “disorder inspires the mind to break free of convention.”   Kind of “out of the box” thinking.  Those who prefer to work at a neat desk with a place for everything and everything in its place tend to be “rule followers”.

Think about Albert Einstein: rule breaker, genius, and messy!!  Just look at that desk!  It was Einstein who said, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”   Good question.  

So, maybe a messy desk is not so bad.   But how about a messy church?

Denise, my wife, forwarded to me an article that put a spring in my step today.  It is written by Sam Rainer, president of Rainer Research, and son of Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. I guess research runs in their family.   Check it out.

Rainer makes a bold statement: “The healthiest churches are inevitably messy.”  Why?  Healthy churches are “telling others about Jesus and inviting them to worship services.  And ironically, successful churches in this area will often be viewed as unhealthy.”  Wow!  

He goes on: “A healthy church with a passionate outward focus can expect as much as 50% of the congregation to be loosely connected at any given point.  Why?  It means spiritually mature people are inviting their friends.”

“If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re dong something right.  Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong.  In fact, a church full of  ‘mature’ believers is quite immature because it means no one is reaching outward.”  

A good summary of Rainer’s thoughts are in the title of his article: “Messy is Healthy.”

And that’s why this article put a spring in my step – a quiver in my liver – and gave hope to my soul. You see, my desk is often messy,  my life is sometimes messy (I just ate 6 boxes of gluten-free fig newtons in one week), and I feel the most fulfilled in ministry when building a church of messy people.  

But messy isn’t typically seen as healthy.  Messy is, well, messy.  It’s not neat and tidy.  Messy asks questions.  Messy sometimes doubts. Can we be both maturing and messy?  Can we be growing in Christ and still ask questions and experience doubts?  I think so.  I read a phrase in the book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale, that I like and expresses how I see myself – “a reverent agnostic.”  The character in the book, a Franciscan priest, explains, “The word agnostic means ‘not knowing.’ There are countless mysteries that I have to stand before reverently and humbly while saying, ‘I don’t know.”

No, messiness is not seen as a positive.  The phrase is not “Messiness is next to Godliness.” But maybe it should be.  “Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). It seems that those who were seen as “messy” in Jesus’ day were in fact the ones closest to Jesus.
Is it possible that we are all messes?  That the difference is that some admit it and some don’t? Is Paul admitting that he’s a hot mess in 1 Timothy 1:14-15? “…and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.  It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.”

It is the messy who needs the Messiah.

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