God graces us all with various galleries and we come to critical viewing points within them. As we wander the halls of these viewing spaces, God brings us into a room where two works of art are displayed. Two portraits–and we view them.
One portrait is a painting of the God we say we believe in. The other portrait is a painting of the God we really believe in.
What we say we believe.
What we really believe.
St. Francis’ Portraits
St. Francis of Assisi began a life of following an unpredictable Savior, and came to such a critical viewing point.
He couldn’t reconcile his wealthy lifestyle with the Jesus he discovered in the pages of Scripture, so he took a vow of poverty. The portraits were too different, so he did something about it.
Francis stole from his father to help rebuild a church. His father would not only disown him, but would take him to court to make it happen. On the day of his court sentencing, Francis stripped down to his birthday suit, illustrating for all to see that he had no need for anything his father could offer. And as he did this, his two belief-portraits became more closely aligned.
Francis preached to all of creation, because that’s what Jesus said to do. So he not only spoke the gospel to people, but to animals and nature as well (one of his most famous sermons was given to a flock of birds). People thought he was crazy. I probably would have branded him a lunatic.
Say what you believe. Believe what you say.
Two Portraits of the Church
God not only graced St. Francis with various galleries; he graces our churches with various galleries, too. In our churches, God places before us two portraits. One portrait is a painting of the church we say we are. The other portrait is a painting of the church we really are.
Church leaders stand on their platforms and declare that they love the poor like Jesus loves the poor. That’s a tall order to fulfill.
We publicize to our communities that we’re reaching the world for Christ, even though that’s a goal, not a current reality. We’re not really reaching the world for Christ, but it looks great on a missions statement.
We promise “life-changing” worship experiences or “a place to call home.” Again, we’re speaking the language of potential, not the language of current situation.
I think Francis would look at many churches in North America and simply ask, “Really?” I think he’d invite church leaders on a long nature walk to chat about the two portraits he sees. He’d say something like, “You say you believe in this God, but your actions aren’t really bearing that out on a day-to-day basis.” I think he’d look at the copy found on our church websites and wonder if it’s all really that good, that fulfilling or that formulaic.
I think he’d say all that in Italian.
As a pastor, and now as a business leader, my tendency is always to communicate over-truths to the people I’m trying to influence. I’m not intentionally evil or an obsessive liar or anything. I’m just trying to help people grow.
And I want people to think I’m a little better than I really am.
I need a portrait realignment.
I suppose the rest of our lives could be spent trying to paint one portrait so that it looks strikingly similar to the other. As we engage in all forms of church communication, I wish church leaders could have the courage to paint with that kind of self-awareness—to create portraits that invite a viewing public to see vision and brokenness and beauty and pain and honesty and accidental discipleship.
I’m confident that things would change as a result.
And I’m pretty sure Francis would agree.