Local author seeks increased transparency in the modern church
When Joseph W. Smith III set out to do a Sunday School class on transparency, he was surprised at the lack of materials available to pull from.
“I looked high and low and couldn’t find one on the subject,” he said, except for one he found that was written 40 years ago and is now out of print.
“So, I had to develop the material myself and after I had been working on it for awhile, I had about 40 pages of notes,” he noted. It was then he decided he had enough for a book.
The author of two other books, Smith, who is an elder at New Life Orthodox Presbyterian Church and teaches at the Loyalsock Township School District, took about five years to write the book, “Transparency: A Cure for Hypocrisy in the Modern Church.”
Smith said he has been interested in church work and has been committed to a couple of small churches in the area since he moved here in 1989.
He contends that Christian churches in American have a problem with transparency.
“I think people feel like they have to put their best face on before they go into church, especially if they’re a newcomer,” he said.
“It kind of goes along with our Sunday best clothes. So you leave your problems at the door. Especially if you have sins,” he added.
The origin of this tendency to not be transparent, Smith believes, begins at a young age in school, reflected in the book’s chapter titled, “He Who Is in the World: School and Cool.”
“In school, you learn you’ve got to be like everybody else,” Smith said. “You can’t be different. You’ve got to put on a face everyday and if not, you’re going to be seriously ostracized.”
“And then we become adults. We see television, movies, magazine, especially Disney, convey this … I think we’re so saturated in that. We have a lot of trouble telling people that my life doesn’t look like that,” he added.
The solution, he said, is for churches to be places where people can share with the hope that someone will be there to pray for them and to offer accountability.
“I would see it happening this way: church is over and you’re standing in the fellowship hall with coffee. Instead of talking about your daughter’s soccer game or what movie you saw last night, she would say, ‘I heard you’re having trouble at work,’ or ‘How is your job going?’ or ‘How’s your mother? I hear she was sick,’ or ‘Is there anything I can pray for you about?’ “ he said.
“We’re talking one-on-one, maybe three people just standing around. Just so we begin to open up more,” Smith added.
Smith cautions that it’s important to find two or three “safe” people with whom to share.
“You have to use your head. You can’t just share with anybody,” he said.
And, it’s also essential to have a relationship with those people.
“We come back to that word, authentic. Where my relationship is not just built on hey we happen to like the same football team and our kids go to the same elementary school,” he said. “That’s not much of a relationship.”
Smith continued, “A relationship is ‘Hey, listen to me, I want to tell you. I lost my temper with my kids on Friday. Have you ever done that? How do you fight that? Can you pray for me?’ “
Through this type of interaction, Smith contends, the other person thinks, “Wow, he’s a human being, too. I don’t have to come in here and pretend that I don’t lose my temper every now and then, because something tells me that he does that too. See how that would transform church into a very different place.”