Are you familiar with this church face?

"Church Face" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward
“Church Face” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Not only members do this, but pastors as well.

In fact, one Sunday morning when Lisa and I were going through a hard time, before we got out of the car to go into the church, she said, “Well, let’s put on our church face and go in!” I was the assistant pastor.

It’s not just a religious thing. It’s a human herd thing.

And I’m not just talking about hiding our sadness or other emotions, but hiding things that really matter to us, like questions, doubts, fears, and identities.

Which is why I’ve always tried to provide a safe space where authenticity can happen.

It is always powerful. Real. But powerful!

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17 Replies to “Are you familiar with this church face?”

  1. I don’t bother taking my church face to church anymore. Even if people appreciate it, it can’t feel anything in return. It’s like taking a stuffed dog for a walk.

  2. The hardest is when you can no longer hold up that mask without losing more of yourself and your integrity and wholeness. That makes the churched folk around you very uncomfortable, irrational, and even angry. Living unmasked is risky business.

  3. I try to be myself but also try not be only negative. I often will say to people when they smile and say they are fine. No I really want to know. One friend who is suffering with a family member with Alzheimer’s would come in smiling would end up in tears when I would ask. We have such a crazy idea that we should always have everything all together. If I have any problems why should I want to go to church it is for perfect people.

  4. May I offer that showing honest humanness equals self-destruction within the male-dominated church institution?

    Honest humanness (within the above culture) is equal to ‘weakness’, which in turn, disqualifies the revealer from any future official or unofficial promotion.

    To explain, men hate to show vulnerability, because it is interpreted as ‘weakness’ by other men… and results in their disqualification. No more promotion; loss of rank; and/or demotion happen officially or unofficially within the male subculture. By the way, when a man says, ‘What a pussy!’ about another man, they are not speaking about cats….. . They are speaking about disgusting female weakness that disqualifies.

    [and, btw, any woman showing humanness is auto-disqualified by these unwritten male subculture rules. And, if she shows a mask and male-like behavior, then she is also auto-disqualified for being too ‘butch’… but that ‘catch 22’ is another thread of thought.]

    What happens when we do not wear the church face mask?

    If we desire promotion (or to stay employed in the church institution), then we can get terminated for showing our humanness. The unspoken rule is that blunt.

    If we desire depth in communication and real relationships that sustain us, then other ‘mask wearers’ are caught in the cross-fire. After all, if the other ‘mask wearer’ listens to you, they may reciprocate, take off their mask, and admit damning honest humanness about their own life… and lose all chance for their next promotion.

    As I came to realize that the institutionalized church was male-dominated and business-minded… as I came to realize that ‘the seed that grew, fell into a good and honest heart’… that is when I realized that Satan would do everything to keep self-revealing and self-disclosure (‘honest humanness’) out of the church.

    No self-honesty allowed equals no spiritual growth. Satan has won.

    The only successful cure I have seen is to establish ‘closed circles’ of people wherein deep honesty can be shared, and no confidences revealed. Within these circles, believers grow by leaps and bounds. Suddenly, the Spirit speaks through others revealing what helped them in similar circumstances. Real pastoring occurs. The real ‘Jesus’ is encountered in honest and vulnerable histories of humanness.

    Yet, sadly, I have seen how the institutional church will work hard to discredit, control, and dismantle the ‘closed circles’. Satan has again won.

  5. …Herd thing? I don’t know, sounds more like a case of self-preservation of Ego to me. Isn’t it interesting that of all places, church is where we feel most terrified of exposure. I mean, who wants to show any inkling of vulnerable to a pack of wolves….

  6. Mike – I disagree. Most people I encounter want and expect a cheery, “Great!” when they ask the typical ‘how are you’ questions. When you tell them, “Honesty my husband and I just got into a big fight on the way to church because the baby pooped and neither of us wanted to change it, then he said I should because it’s ‘my job’, and then it was On Like Donkey Kong.” …. they get this disturbed look on their faces like you’re harshing their mellow. (but it’s really fun to be that honest, and I find that most people stop asking me the banal questions when they realize you’re actually going to answer them … and the people who DON’T stop asking the questions, well, they’re your true friends 🙂 )

  7. … ok, so that being said, and all sarcasm aside, I do think it’s not wise to be completely honest about everything going on with you, with everyone who asks. There are levels of boundaries, after all, that are healthy. Only my closest friends really know my true thoughts on everything, then I limit information incrementally as you progress through degrees of relationship. My bible study knows less than my friends, but more than the average church person. And the average church person knows more than the people who run in political circles (my husband is an elected official).

    But there should be a degree of emotional honesty in all interactions, no? Finding the appropriate boundaries in each relationship, while still maintaining your personal emotional truth, is I think difficult.

  8. Being invited to be honest and real in church is rare. I worked in a church for 13 years, and was “terminated” for my own good (before the church broke in two) without a moments noticed, asked for all my keys, and shown the door. They acted as if, after 13 years of loving and being devoted to my brothers and sisters in the Lord, that I would steal, or hack the computer list, or something, just because I was upset over being let go… and did I ever feel “let go”… but the worse thing was that I was never “sent off” the way others had been in the past, when they were moving away, or changing jobs. I never had closure, and it still hurts me to this day… this happened almost 7 years ago… and I have yet to darken a church door… very hard to trust God’s people when all they do is wear ugly, plastic halos… *sigh*

  9. … also, what Danica said:

    “… I find that most people stop asking me the banal questions when they realize you’re actually going to answer them … and the people who DON’T stop asking the questions, well, they’re your true friends.”

  10. I’ve done this. Not just to church, as others have said, but it’s at church you kind of expect to not need to.

    In a lot of ways, a church service is an extrovert’s event. I remember one morning that I wasn’t feeling like the corporate worship model, but was still in the habit of attending, the door greeter gave me a hug and asked “You good?” I said “Yes” he said “Really” and I said “No…” and lost it. I spent the service in the church’s courtyard (within hearing of the service) at first talking to him and then talking to and praying with one of the elders.

    We had our own little service because I’d felt the need to discard my mask.

  11. Danica – I work for a health care organization founded upon religion. Before most meetings we say a prayer and every Friday we have worship. It feels like we’re at church a lot while we’re working. Could we be wearing masks at work? Is it a double whammy – job face and church face. How far apart might our personal emotional honesty be behind those masks?

  12. David, you continue to make me chuckle. Way to go!

    You’re right about it being a herd thing. Haven’t been much of a church-goer for some time now and this aspect of it has always bugged the hell outa me. But I did have to entertain the notion that, like you mention, I definitely played my role in this silly charade.

    Been a while since my last visit. Site’s lookin’ good.

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