About 13 years ago I spent a month in Crimea. It was beautiful and challenging. When we arrived we found ourselves in a beautiful campus overlooking the Black Sea, and after the previous three months in Africa, we were prepared to sleep in tents or on a concrete floor somewhere. We were teaching English, speaking at churches, and doing a lot of construction work for the church there, which also ran a sort of retreat/resort center for ministers and their families who need to rest or recover their health.
The workers seemed to have a lot of the detailed construction covered, and the women were tasked with painting and landscaping work. I was waiting for my important job to be given to me. They finally came the second day we were there and said they didn’t have a job they needed me for, so I was asked to chop wood. Every. day. For a month. It was exhausting at first, and after the first two days of wood chopping I began to ask in the mornings, “So what can I do today?” hoping for a different answer. Every day my Ukrainian boss answered the same way, “chop wood!”
After a few days of breaking my back on the work, I actually started growing to like it. I got to listen to about 4-5 sermons on my phone during the day and got some good prayer time in. The only difficulty was when the workers would see me make a mistake. Many times they’d walk by and watch what I was doing, and the instant I failed to get a log quickly and cleanly one of them would come over with a smile, take the axe and show me “how it’s done” for the next 15 minutes. It got irritating really quickly because I like to learn things, and I knew there was no way I was going to be as good at log chopping as men who had done it for years. I started to find other little things to do to look like I was working when they came around, and I’d start chopping wood once they started walking away. I kept feeling like someone was watching over my shoulder, waiting for me to fail.
So often in the church it can feel similar. We look at others, or they look at us, and we’re always aware of this line, this standard that Christians are supposed to look like, live by and stick to. But none of us really hits that perfect standard, and when we make a mistake big enough, there’s usually somebody there to let us know how things should have gone. There’s a myth of perfection in the church that is largely based on image. That’s the spirit I acted out of when I tried to hide my inadequacy in axe swinging. If nobody saw it, I didn’t really mess up.
That’s also why so many leaders seem so inhuman in their “togetherness.” We don’t get to see them in their frailty, but we feel like our own is so easily exposed. We need to stop trying to live by the law, trying to look as if we can make it all perfect and “right” and start being real with each other. It’s time for a generation of strong but vulnerable leaders to step up and show what it’s like to fail and learn with grace. Even seasoned log cutters miss a swing occasionally. We can learn a lot by creating a community where its safe to fail, and those who know better support with encouragement and guidance, rather than a judgement that makes us feel we could never measure up. As the church grows in this area, we’ll see a much greater measure of transformation poured out in the lives of people who are hungry for a community that goes beyond performance into true acceptance and mentorship.