Larry Crabb once wrote that the church should be “the safest place on earth.” He talks about a kind of community grounded in worship, filled with humility, and engaging in open dialogue. Certainly in Acts 2 we see the early church functioning in these ways and sharing everything they had. Miracles were ordinarily extraordinary.
So why don’t our churches always feel safe?
There are a lot of reasons why our churches often feel unsafe. It may seem at first that these groups of believers are only unsafe to outsiders or to those who are struggling. But if we look deeper, we see that these communities are unsafe for everyone. Pressure to look, say, and be a certain way keeps everyone from opening up. It is unsafe to outsiders because it is unsafe for insiders to be anything but insiders. This is hardly a reflection of the kingdom of God.
What would it take for our churches to be safe?
Discomfort. It may sound strange to claim that in order for churches to be safe they have to feel uncomfortable. But doesn’t that make it less safe? Ironically, discomfort as a form of suffering helps us grow. When we move our lives and relationships into the inner city or the third-world slum, we position ourselves to experience discomfort. When you become family with the poor and marginalized, it is hard to ignore their realities. In last week’s post I focused on humility as the key to mental health. It is also the key to the kind of church that Jesus prayed for in John 17.
What can I do?
Some people have been hurt by the church. Many with mental illness have been judged, shamed for seeking treatment, or even shunned. Some have walked away from the church, wounded and disillusioned. Zach Hoag wrote about the “nones” and the “dones” in his new book, The Light Is Winning. He offers hope and inspiration for the church to return to the way of Jesus. He paints a picture of a church that is safe for everyone who may enter. Read it. Live it. Reconnect with hope. Love your neighbor. Listen to those who have stories to tell. Instead of insisting that the church become safe for you, make it safe for someone else. Don’t give up, lean in.