The church as a safe space

Farmville Enterprise March 1, 2017

There is a lot of talk these days about “safe spaces,” especially on college campuses. To what extent should students be made to feel comfortable in their surroundings with like-minded professors or non-controversial ideas? Should their critical thinking skills be challenged by exposing them to unpopular or difficult ideologies or philosophies? If so, how much? This debate made me think of the church. In one sense the church should be the safest place on earth for the individual. On the other hand, it should not be safe at all.

Within the church, not a building but a body of Christian believers, we are all on equal footing. We are the sick, in need of a doctor. We are the broken, longing to be made whole. We are sinners, desperate for forgiveness. In the church we should encounter God, the Creator of the Universe, who is ever gracious, ever faithful and ever forgiving. This merciful God knows our every need and cares about each situation in which we find ourselves. God has adopted us. We are his children. God loves us. Surely we feel safe in a place where these words of Jesus are proclaimed. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Ideally, the church is a place where you are invited to come as you are. There should be no sense that one has to clean up and straighten out before entering. You should find an unconditional welcome that includes a genuine desire for your well-being. Church is a haven to build people up and not to tear them down. Christians are called to forgive without limit and to treat others the way we want to be treated. Surely, being in the midst of Christ-followers gives a sense of security and ease.

On the other hand, there is the part of church that does not feel safe. While we are invited to come as we are, God does not want us to stay where we are. The process of becoming a disciple is far from easy. It is often uncomfortable. Maturing in our faith, like maturing from a child to an adult, involves bumps and bruises.

Jesus offered many hard sayings. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23)  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)  Jesus’ message of self-denial does not fit naturally with most of our tendencies. We typically veer more towards comfort and self-promotion than discomfort and self-denial. The good news is that disciples discover deep and abiding joy in the midst of thinking more about God and others than about our own happiness. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31)  By obeying God we are made healthy, whole and free. May the church fulfill its calling by being a safe and an unsafe space.


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