The Colorado sunshine bathes red rock formations on the slopes surrounding Larry Crabb's house. Outside the living room window, shaggy deer nose sparse bits of grass. "Donkey deer," Crabb explains. "On the East coast, deer are very attractive. These are not the most attractive deer. They're probably eating my flowers right now."
One ugly deer peers in the window as the popular conference speaker, psychotherapist, and professor listens to a quote from one of his 16 books, a hopeful hypothesis about the church, The Safest Place on Earth:
"A spiritual community consists of people who have the integrity to come clean. It is comprised of those who own their shortcomings and failures because they hate them more than they hate the shortcomings and failures of others, who therefore discover that a well of pure water flows beneath their most fetid corruption."
Leadership: Have you seen such a place?
Larry Crabb: When Philip Yancey read the book, his comment to me was "It seems to me you've written about a place you've never seen but hope you will someday."
I've now seen it in a church we helped start back in Indiana. They are an incredible community of people who live in an ongoing brokenness with joy. And my wife and I are now in a spiritual formation group we started over two years ago with three other couples. We're close to it. I think in twenty years I'll still tell you we're close to it. Spiritual community is like a good marriage. It's good, but never ideal. We're getting closer to it.
Spiritual community as you describe it seems to be a place where we can be honest about our sins and open about our weakness. How does that include pastors?
I think the missing element in most pastors' lives is community. Pastors spend time in the Word. They're willing to spend time on their knees. At least some are not that willing to open up their hearts to another brother or sister and say, "Can you help me discern?"
Impotence, inability, that there's nothing of eternal value I can do apart from the Spirit.
On one level, brokenness is simply the release of spiritual power, the Spirit doing his thing and power coming out. It only happens through brokenness, which I think is the most underrated virtue in the Christian community today. But beyond the release of power, there's this deep understanding of our weakness.
Strength, then, is not a virtue to be cultivated. It is a reality to be released. It's something that is already there. It gets released increasingly over the course of your lifetime as brokenness becomes more complete.
Has that been your experience?
That's my testimony. Brokenness wasn't much a part of my life until the last few years. And it feels like it's an increasing thing. But I don't find brokenness to be a morbid thing at all. There's something alive in me that brokenness has simply surfaced.
The first of Luther's 95 Theses was about brokenness, that Jesus willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance. In other words, brokenness is the ongoing, lifelong reality. It isn't something you get past. It's a continually deepening revelation of your own impotence without the Spirit. That's why you meet people in their eighties, godly men and women, who say, "I think I'm just beginning to grasp the gospel."