‘The Greatest Showman’ goes to Church

The greatest showman created a ‘Church’ for those on the sideline, those on the fringe. Those with a stigma came to a safe place where they found strength in their shared struggle. How you serve the sideshow is how you serve the saviour.

‘Who do we serve first’? was the question a Pastor once challenged his church.

Do we focus on serving the needs of those within the Church already or those on the outside? It was always a good debate and the answer seen in the budget.

Recently I went to see ‘The Greatest Showman’.

The musical stared Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, an entertainment entrepreneur of the 1800’s, who devised the idea of the modern circus.

A brief synopsis of the movie is that P.T. Barnum built a circus based around those who were on the outside of acceptability. The bearded woman, the tallest man, the shortest man, Siamese twins and others.

He brought those who were on the outside into a community and called it ‘church’. Well, he didn’t call it church, but they came together and found a community of fellow acceptability.

They were the oddities, and P.T. Barnum profiteered off this, but the ‘Freaks’ found a fellowship of hope.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me


The Living Room Church

When I was a pastor/ chaplain, I was given the opportunity to help create a church community for those with disabilities, particularly Mental Health related illnesses.

I was to focus on those who struggled with mental illnesses in our community and create a  church community with them. Empowering them to find hope through faith. The church I was part of had identified that they were not meeting the pastoral needs of these people.

So we created a church within a church. We had a church service on a Tuesday night called ‘The Living Room’. This was a place where we empowered the attendees to lead the service, share their lives, be in the music band, even preach the sermon. We had camps, Bible studies, recovery groups.

Being on a Tuesday night and not on a Sunday enabled attendees to go to other Churches for Sunday services if they wanted.

My Senior Pastor publicly said that if Jesus were to come to the church, he would probably attend The Living Room.

Who do you serve first

So much of church life is focused on those that are quite well or seem that way.

The decision makers, those who hold power, are often the ones who are financially healthy, have higher education qualifications and are truly entrenched in keeping the church comfortable for the majority – people like themselves.

Just look at your church leadership. Is it being led by the strugglers or by the self-sanctified? The poor or the rich? What is the average income of those in leadership compared to those that Jesus would want to eat dinner with?

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9: 10-13

Redefining Church

So if Jesus was to attend a Church now, what would it look like?

I offer three suggestions.

  1. Small, super small, like only three people small. 
    “When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” – Jesus – Matthew 18:20  
  2. A place where there are honest, open, and real relationships. 
    That same day two of them were walking to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who he was. He asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” Luke 24:13-32 
  3. Where worship, giving worth to God, is in the words and work. 
    Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? James 2:14-17 

The bearded woman’s challenge

Who would you rather be in a church relationship with? The bearded woman or Miss America?

And that is what it comes down to.

Stop trying to change the church. Start being the church Jesus would come to.

Quotes to consider

  • Loneliness is the leprosy of modern society.  And no one wants anybody to know they’re a leper. Mother Teresa
  • Community is not an organization; community is a way of living: you gather around you people with whom you want to proclaim the truth that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. Community is not easy.  Somebody once said, “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.”  Henri Nouwen
  • But the most important reason to pursue deep community is not for the physical or emotional benefits it brings, great as those may be, Community is the place God made us for.  Community is the place where God meets us. John Ortberg

Questions to answer 

  1. The question ‘Who do you serve first?’ is always a tricky one to answer. Or is it? How would you answer it?
  2. What serves someone with a Mental Illness better? A church where they have to try and fit in with, or a church community that is dedicated to meeting their specific faith needs? Can you truly do both?
  3. Do you think Jesus would be more likely attend the AA meeting in the church hall or the Sunday service in the grand auditorium? Why?

Barry Pearman

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