“Sweeping things under the rug” is a common idiom to describe the way people (and sometimes churches) handle painful and unpleasant things. I actually have some experience with rugs and the dirt they can hide! Each summer through my college years, I worked with one of the top door to door salesmen for Electrolux vacuum cleaners. In addition to the lifelong friendship Jim and I developed over those summers, I never knew what a day would hold as we knocked on doors.

For instance, one day I knocked on a door and immediately heard a loud galloping noise stampeding in my direction. It was a Great Dane charging the open front door from inside the house! At full speed he leapt up and put his paw on the latch, pushing the storm door open. I instinctively forced it back, closing it in a nick of time! My life spared, I learned to keep one foot on the bottom of the screen door when knocking or ringing a doorbell.

On another occasion, I met a dear woman who agreed to let me demonstrate a vacuum, but when I returned, after getting delayed, she was drunk out of her gourd. Talk about uncomfortable. It took twenty minutes to extricate ourselves from her abusive ranting. Days later, my partner Jim, went back to the now sober housewife and led her to Jesus (and sold her a vacuum)!

I remember demonstrating a vacuum to another lady. When the machine sucked more dirt out of her carpet then she could believe, she accused me of putting dirt in the vacuum’s hose ahead of time! I still chuckle when I recall her denial that there could have been that much dirt in her rug.

While I cleaned a lot of rugs during those summers, I never vacuumed under a rug. However, as I now serve with Blessing Point Ministries, I help churches vacuum under their rugs all of the time to cleanse the unpleasant and painful things they have hidden there. And it’s completely biblical. Think about it. Where was Achan’s gold hidden? Under the dirt in his tent (Josh 7). Though the Bible doesn’t say, I’m sure there was a rug over the spot! People have been hiding things under rugs for a long time.

It’s good to have the custodian vacuum the rugs at church, but sometimes we need to clean under them too. Otherwise the offenses and sins we hide there can create ripples which trip up our ministry. How do you know if it’s time to vacuum under the rug at church? Here are a few clues:

  • You’ve heard stories about unhealed painful episodes in your church’s history, such as a church split, immorality by a leader or the abuse of power.
  • Your ministry has an unwritten code that inhibits transparency and squashes truth sharing.
  • The neighbors know more about your church’s bumpy history than the current pastor.

The Lord knows what’s under the rug. We may step over these things a thousand Sundays, but He grieves our cover up. Though He is gracious, He is also holy and He will discipline a church when it ignores what He does not. Sometimes that discipline takes the form of a “fall” as it did in the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:5). Why do churches often get derailed from fulfilling their calling in a community? Something trips them up, and often it is what they have swept under the rug.

May our prayer be what Keith Green sang about back when I was selling those vacuum cleaners: “Rushing Wind, blow through this temple, blowing out the dust within.” If you need someone to help you vacuum under the carpet of church life, we hope you’ll reach out to us. We can equip your leaders to recognize the signs of things buried under the rug and help clean things up.

What might be some other signs that painful things have been swept under the rug? We welcome your comments.

Rev. Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries. Blessing Point helps churches find healing from painful church crises.

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