Lying in Church – Why We Do It, How to Stop

I’ve been wondering lately what would happen if we all stopped lying in church.

Working with teens has taught me that by the time a person has reached the age of thirteen; church culture has been very effective at teaching them how to hide themselves and their true thoughts on Sunday mornings. It takes work to break through that.

Meditating on this forced me to pay attention to how often I catch myself (or others) skirting the truth in church.

For example, “Thanks for that sermon, Pastor. Lots to think about.” Could often be translated “You lost me after the first story, Rev. I tried to follow but when I couldn’t see the point of what you were saying I started making out my grocery list.”

Or “When it began to sound like something I’ve heard before and think I already know, I started picking apart your delivery.”

Another example, “I’ll pray for you about that.”

That line should be a commitment but often it can be translated “I have to find a way out of our conversation that sounds spiritual so I’ll say this.”

Or “I have no idea how your situation is going to improve and I can’t help you so maybe this will comfort you.”

How about this one? “I’m really interested in helping out. Let me pray about it and get back to you.” You know how that one should be translated. You are NEVER going to get that call.

It’s not as though all Christians determine to live lives of deception. In fact, most of us aim for the opposite. Often we start lying because we’re trying to be kind, civil or delicate. Unfortunately, our deception separates us from one another – often isolating us when we need each other most.

Sometimes we don’t know how to tell each other the truth. Especially on Sunday morning, we’re trying to be positive and grab onto the hope and faith available to us. No one wants to be responsible for bringing everyone else down. But what if the truth to the question “How was your week?” is something like this:

“There were so many demands on my time I didn’t have one minute for God. I pulled my Sunday school lesson out of the air in the car on the way over here and now I feel guilty and defeated. I’m wondering how this next week is going to be different but I can’t handle anyone here knowing or judging me today.”

Or

“At work this week, people were talking about the Christian Right and I wanted to stand up for Christ and witness for Him. Instead, I started having doubts about my own faith. My coworkers made some good points and I didn’t have any answers. I’m embarrassed to admit to anyone that happened but I don’t know what to do now.”

Or

“My family fought all week long. One of my kids is challenging my parenting skills and it’s putting a strain on our marriage and on my patience. I’m worried that his problems are my fault. I’m exhausted and I screamed at my family all the way here in the car. Now, I’m just trying to look like I’m not losing it until I can get home.”

The truth is hard to speak, to face, and to live but deception is never a viable alternative for believers. Even small civil lies are just gateway lines to full-blown hypocrisy and once we’re addicted to hypocrisy, the damage requires serious intervention and has far-reaching consequences, for example, if people didn’t lie in church and vow to spend the rest of their life with someone when they know they could perhaps not hold themselves to that, we wouldn’t need so many divorce and family lawyers such as Family lawyers Mayfair and many more.

The church is supposed to be a family.

If you visit my family on any given holiday, you will hear brutal honesty. “Hey, you’re putting on some pounds aren’t you, bro?” or “That kid is driving me crazy.” Or “Seriously, Dad, we’ve heard that story a million times already.” or “Don’t come crying to me now. I told you that was a bad decision when you made it!” or “Did you hire a beaver to cut your hair, sis?”

Well, we have a ways to go with kindness but the point is that we are comfortable with honesty because family is family. We know we aren’t going anywhere. We are united by blood.

We need to reach this level of understanding in the church.

You are stuck with me and I am stuck with you and as hard as that is to handle (especially for you 🙂 ) sometimes it’s a beautiful thing. When God adopted each of us He said: Here is your family. You are not alone in this world. You have me and you have them.

Deception isolates us from help, from comfort, from wise counsel, from necessary correction and, eventually, from effective ministry to the world.

I work hard to create a safe space for the teens in my Sunday morning class. I push and prod for honest answers. I also discuss how to find a mature believer to be honest to when you are struggling. I’ve experienced judgment and bad Christian counsel first hand – it isn’t pretty.

But being so afraid of judgment that we stop being honest is dangerous and devastating for the work of Christ in our hearts and in this world. We are known by and loved by the God of the Universe. We should be fearless.

Paul encourages us in Ephesians 4:22-25: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Try it out this week. Listen to yourself in church. Are you telling the truth? Good for you. Are you telling lies? Be done with that. Be fearless. This week, show up on Sunday morning as yourself. Tell me how it goes.

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5 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Karin says:

    Thanks, I needed that. It’s not hard for me to be so open and share exactly what I’m thinking, but people don’t like that – at least so I’ve noticed. Therefore, if I can’t say something nice, perhaps it’s best to say nothing at all.

  2. Relationships take work. There’s no shortcut to that. I don’t think we should all just start spouting negative stuff at church this week but if that’s what is there, it doesn’t help to cover it up with a positive lie. What we need to do is submit our hearts to God to fix the unloving or critical stuff that might come out. Sometimes saying nothing is a wise stop-gap while we allow the Holy Spirit to sort us out – it’s better than putting on a sweet front to a sour core.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head, there, Lori. Church is supposed to be a family but with a business model, it’s impossible to achieve that. Pastors lie every day, or they’d lose their paychecks. And therein lies, no pun intended, much of the problem.

    Even the big church mags advocate running your church like a business. It’s the biggest system of error I’ve seen. No wonder deception is the result.

    Every church I’ve been to is run like a business with the highest “achievers” awarded “positions” and the furthest thing from God’s mind and heart.

  4. Carmen says:

    I agree very strongly with your points in this post. Christians seldom know how to handle honest people. They offer pat answers, label you as faithless, assume you need serious counsel on a spiritual level(when all you’re really dealing with is life). or they see it as an opportunity to make themselves look good.

    Churches these days are just a business…and deception is the topic of the day. It saddens me immensely! I so want to be a positive influence in the midst of all that–but honestly, I don’t know how, and I haven’t been attending regularly for a while now. My husband refuses to go at all. My kids want us to come…they are all very involved and we’re glad about that…but…well, that’s all.

  5. Great post, Lori. So real and relevant.