Have you ever met someone who can’t laugh at themselves? They just can’t seem to let loose and have a good time because they’re so busy trying to keep up appearances? Let’s be honest—they’re a great big Debbie Downer and no one wants to hang out with someone like that. And yet, sometimes the church can come off like that.

Where the Church Has Gotten It Wrong

Years ago, there were many churches that worked very hard at telling people what they couldn’t do. They couldn’t go to the movies, women couldn’t wear makeup or jewelry, and something as crazy as dancing was highly frowned upon. Many people looked at those rules and thought, I’ll pass. And who can blame them? I know I wouldn’t want to attend that church! The church shouldn’t be so busy telling you what you can’t do that it forgets what it’s supposed to be doing—reaching people. And part of reaching people includes stepping down off our high horses and being real and relatable.

Where Jesus Got It Right

If you’ve seen the movie Talladega Nights (to quote Pastor Bryan, don’t email me if you think I shouldn’t be encouraging people to watch Will Ferrell movies), you’ll remember the scene where they’re discussing how they like to picture Jesus—and Ricky Bobby likes the baby Jesus the best. Well, I like to think that Jesus was a relatable, funny guy. After all, he was not only fully God, but he was fully human. And humor and laughter are part of being human.

While it’s hard to find moments where Jesus literally cracked jokes with his disciples, you can see parts of Jesus’ human side throughout the New Testament. For example, when James and John asked him about calling fire down from heaven, he gave them the nickname Sons of Thunder. I’m sure that created a bit of a face-palm moment for them, but I like to think Jesus had a good giggle about it. And when Jesus was hungry and wanted some figs from a bare tree, he didn’t just go looking for another fig tree—he literally cursed the bare tree and it died! I’m pretty sure that was a fairly satisfying experience that made Jesus mumble, “Take that, tree.” And who can forget when he turned the tables in the temple? Yup—Jesus was fully human, after all.

Jesus also made sure that he hung out with some questionable characters. He didn’t generally hang with the “popular” kids or the high-society types. He talked to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the folks who were shunned by the rest of society. I think this should serve as a model to the church. It’s not our responsibility to clean people up before they come to Jesus—he came to them right in the middle of their mess. So when we’re tempted to think of ourselves as being better than non-church-goers, let’s not forget that that line of thinking definitely didn’t come from Jesus.

What About Us

So what does this teach us? It’s okay to be real! When people come to church, they don’t want to see a bunch of people who seem to have it all together and are better than them. And they don’t want a list of rules they must obey before they can even walk in the door. They want reality—and sometimes reality is messy or funny. Sometimes your kid runs into church, runs out of her shoes, and just keeps going (I speak from experience). Sometimes you come in late and have to stumble up the dark steps to the balcony to find a spare seat. And sometimes you might not feel like putting on the happy church mask and just want to tell someone that you had a crummy week. We’re not perfect—not one of us. We all screw up, trip over our words, and have moments we’d rather forget. We don’t have to have it together 100% of the time, or even 90% of the time. So try to relax, look at things through a different prism, and maybe even have a good chuckle at yourself. After all, you’re only human—and that’s as real as it comes.