Looking for a Judgment-Free Zone

Over the weekend, I spent some time with pastoral colleagues at the Dallas Comedy House. The founder of DCH, Amanda Austin, taught a workshop on how to use the principles of comedy in preaching.

All of that was interesting, but what got my attention was her explanation about why she started the comedy club in the first place. She told us that she had simply fallen in love withcomedy, wanted others to fall in love with it, too, and then wanted to help others get up on stage to do it.

What I found fascinating was that Amanda realizes that she doesn’t simply run a comedy club; she understands that her main business is NOT primarily about bringing in audiences on Friday and Saturday nights, and getting them to buy lots of drinks.

No, her business model is very different. Instead, she has created a community of people who are learning how to do comedy in a variety of ways — improv, stand-up, sketch, podcasting, etc. She explained that she has worked hard to make DCH a judgment-free zone so that people will feel free to express themselves and open up to the creative spirit.

One of my colleagues suddenly perked up and said, “You’ve created a church, basically! At least what a church ought to be like!”

Amanda said, “I’ve never thought about it like that, but … yeah, I guess you’re right!”

Ever since, I’ve been musing on the similarities between running a church and a comedy club. What if I viewed my central job to be, not running worship services on Sunday morning, but helping people fall in love with Jesus? That’s why I became a pastor in the first place — I love this guy named Jesus. As much as possible, I want to be like him, because he knew how to love and do justice in the midst of a frighteningly evil world. He is everything the Scriptures say he is — bread, life, water, resurrection!

I want you to love him, too. And I want you to also live like him. Maybe I should spend more time helping you all do that, rather than trying to get butts in seats and checks in plates on Sunday morning. Maybe I can find ways to spend more time teaching and praying with you, rather than leading committees and doing paperwork.

All I want is for all of you to catch the spirit of Jesus, to get excited about who he is, to get Christ inside of you (see last week’s column), and to live the kingdom life. When those things start to happen in you and me, then the church becomes a very different kind of place. The church becomes a liberating, life-giving, happy kind of place.

And it becomes a judgment-free zone, just like the Dallas Comedy House.

That’s my biggest hope for the church. Most churches struggle with this judgment thing. It’s so easy to slip into a self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude in church settings. We all do it, because human nature is prone to putting others down in an effort to feel better about oneself.

But the number one lesson we learn from Jesus is that we should be very, very careful about casting judgments. Need I remind you what he said about this very subject? “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-4)

Next time you catch yourself ready to criticize, complain, or make fun of one of your fellow church members, decide to go judgment-free. Let it drop. Let it slide. Give him the benefit of the doubt; realize that whatever it is that has got you all worked up probably doesn’t matter in the long run.

And get back to following that guy named Jesus. That’s where the action is!