Christians are taught to view churches as a place where we can take our problems, find answers to the dilemmas we face, or find solace from the shame we’re feeling. But not all churches really offer people a safe and non-judgmental place to do that, says Kyle Jackson—and fewer still offer ways to reach people before their problems and temptations turn into crises.

“Most affairs start with a simple hello, they start with a single comment on a social media post. Alcoholics don’t get to be alcoholics because they had one beer on the golf course. They start small,” explains Jackson, pastor at the Columbus campus of Church of the Highlands. “We’ve got to teach men to share at the first thought of something, not to share only when they’ve crossed the line.”

For its part, Church of the Highlands—even though it’s a large organization with more than 20 locations—has worked to create smaller, more intimate groups within its congregations where people facing challenges and temptations might feel more comfortable opening up. The concept is based, Jackson says, in James 5:16: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

“We just want to try to create as many safe places as we can that are interspersed throughout the church but that aren’t as big as the church, that may not feel as intimidating as meeting directly with a pastor,” Jackson says. “Where life-giving relationships are built, good things fall out.”

What does “restoration” mean to you?

 One thing I think Christians struggle with a lot is “I’m saved, I’ve said the salvation prayer, but now I’ve made these mistakes.” I think restoration is the ability to take anything from the past that brought shame, pain, or guilt into an area of your life—anything that you’ve done in your past, anything that you thought in your past, anything that you participated in in your past—and be made whole again, be set free, and then leverage it for the good of others. I think restoration is when you are at a place where you feel like you’re safe from harm, and you can turn that harm around and use it for good.

Why do you think that kind of restoration is so hard for people to find for many people?

I think nobody deals in yesterday. I think we live in a culture that says vulnerability is a weakness, so why would I let anyone else know what’s going on? Restoration starts with being vulnerable enough to let people know what your mistake is and then to not just move forward but receive healing from it. I think a lot of Christians immediately go to God and repentance, but the Bible is very clear—it says, “Take your sins to one another so you can be healed.”

We think repentance will bring healing. Repentance brings forgiveness, but being vulnerable with others and letting them lay hands on you and pray for you brings restoration. Asking God for forgiveness opens the loop on restoration; being vulnerable and asking people to help you closes the loop on restoration.

So many Christians, even when we look for answers in the Bible, still look for the easiest answers possible. We give scripture a superficial reading, without digging deeper to a place that might ask us to make a greater sacrifice.

 I want to be careful with how I phrase this, but I think many of us in the church struggle with creating systems or places for people to actually be open and feel safe. I think most people think “I have to go to my pastor to let them know this or that,” but then when they can’t meet with their pastor because the church is too big, or there’s a system and it takes a month to get a meeting, they get hurt by that. Not every church necessarily has places or processes that give people a safe place to feel vulnerable, and that gives the enemy a chance to run that down and make us feel guilt and shame. Now you’re in a pit, and we really have to work that out. Highlands doesn’t try to do a million things well, but we do a few things really well—we try to be a church of small groups, where people feel they can build trust, so as soon as something happens in their lives they have people they feel like they can turn to.

When we don’t know what to do, we’re paralyzed. It’s like I’m standing at the window of something happening in my life, and I need to start the process of restoration, but outside the window there’s dark clouds and thunder. So instead of walking out to my car, I stand there paralyzed, not wanting to go out into the rain. A lot of people just don’t know what to do—either their church doesn’t have a process for it or they just don’t talk about it. Do you knock on on the door of the pastor and say, “Hey, I had an affair”? One guy out of 100 might find the courage to do that, but where do the other 99 go?

Churchgoers get a lot of mixed messages about pastors, it seems. On the one hand, we’re told that pastors are people we can take our troubles and questions to when we’re having problems. On the other hand, we’re afraid to do that very thing, because then our pastor will know our deep dark secrets and think less of us because of it. 

And here’s the problem with that: That could be true! Every pastors’ grace is different, every pastor’s approach is different, every pastor’s theology is different. Which is why I think The Redeemed has such a great thing going—it’s a place, a vessel where men can go to be safe. It’s a safe place where they can come in and be honest, or at least where they can sit there and receive, hearing other people be honest, which might help start them on their own paths to honesty. Not because of a person, but because of a place, a safety net, because of the opportunity to see other people share what they’re going through, and maybe they can find help for what they’re going through. And again, many of us in the church struggle to find a way to offer that. I can’t do it in Sunday school, I may not want to share it with a pastor, so where do I go?

Where life-giving relationships are built, good things fall out. What’s in the light has the opportunity to die, but what sits in the dark will only grow. 

That’s an interesting way of phrasing it. It kind of inverts our usual thinking that associates light with God and life and goodness. Sometimes, though, you really do need the light to kill off something bad. 

One way to illustrate it is we found some bacteria or mold, and we put a pot over it and let it sit for two weeks in the heat and the dark. We take that pot off and it’s actually grown. We let it be exposed to light, though, and it has an opportunity to die. I think men just don’t have much of an opportunity to put things in the light. So something that’s small turns into something very big.

Most affairs start with a simple hello, they start with a single comment on a social media post. Alcoholics don’t get to be alcoholics because they had one beer on the golf course. They start small. Anything that you think about to remove stress, burden, heaviness, anything that your mind goes to before it goes to God, prayer, telling others, or the Bible—that’s the place where addiction creeps in. And that can be sexual addiction, alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating. If I’m sitting at the office and I’m stressed and burdened, and the first thing I think is “Do I have any beer in the fridge?” or “I wonder if she texted me back,” that’s how it starts small. We’ve got to teach men to share at the first thought of something, not to share only when they’ve crossed the line. 

There’s another irony for you. When we take that first step, we think, “I can’t tell anybody about this, it would be too embarrassing.” But then that affair, addiction, whatever it is goes so far and gets its hooks in us so deeply that it becomes many times more embarrassing than it would’ve been if we’d just said something in the beginning.

 Again, I think we have a lot of places for men and women to share once they’ve crossed the line, but we don’t have a lot of spaces for men and women to share when they’ve taken a step toward that line. As hard as churches have worked on ministries to pull people out of the pit, we need to do more in terms of ministries that keep people from falling into the pit—both are necessary. There are 100 steps to crossing the line, and we’ve tried to create something that can catch them in the first 10.