Finding a Safe Church

This is the second of a multi-part series on finding a safe church.

The past two years at our current church have been a time of healing for me. During this time, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of having a safe church.

This might not be the first thing you think about when you think of finding a church.

Unfortunately, safety sometimes gets a bad wrap from Christians. People think of a safe church as a less than committed church. A safe church is somehow soft-pedaling the gospel.

When I think of a safe church, I think of a place where little children, tax collectors and prostitutes all feel welcome.  I think of a place that embraces the broken.  A safe church is a place where the gospel is allowed to truly live and breathe.

This is not a system or method of church growth. This is not about being seeker-sensitive. This is simply about following Jesus’ example.

In John 4 Jesus approaches a Samaritan Woman by a well and asks her for a drink of water.  Sitting with this woman, Jesus pretty much breaks every rule in the book. For religious and cultural reasons, this kind of thing was simply not done. Jews do not talk to Samaritans and Jewish men most definitely do not speak with Samaritan women.

Jesus doesn’t just speak with the Samaritan woman, they have a conversation.

They talk about true worship, living water and eternal life. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman about her past. He knows her past. Somehow, he knows her shameful past. He knows about her five husbands. He knows about the man she is living with. Jesus knows everything about her, and yet he still sits there. He chats with her, as someone might talk with a friend.

The Samaritan woman can’t believe her eyes or her ears, so she runs back to her village to tell everyone about this remarkable rabbi, this prophet, the messiah.

She tells the people of her village, “He told me everything I ever did.”

For Jesus, his acknowledgement of the Samaritan woman’s past came with acceptance and grace, and it came without precondition or guilt. Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman gives us a kind of model to follow.

A safe church doesn’t judge you for your brokenness. It seeks to meet you where you are.

All of us are broken. We’ve all experienced disappointment and failure much like the Samaritan woman.

Unfortunately, broken people do not come neatly packaged. Their lives are messy. They have addictions and problems. They are the walking wounded, and as a result they are sometimes not the best “leader material,” nor are they the best followers.

Sometimes, these broken people have a hard time in the church. Shouldn’t they just “get over it?” If they were obedient and had more faith, shouldn’t their problems simply resolve themselves?

When these broken people share from their experience within the church, the result can be awkwardness. We don’t know how to respond to brokenness. We offer some platitudes about “God’s plan” and say, “I’ll pray for you.”

I’ve experienced first-hand the kind of church culture, which discourages you from sharing too honestly and openly about your struggles and hurts. In a culture where nobody shares too honestly, what happens when your brokenness gets exposed? The result is shame and judgment. You can’t be yourself and you can’t risk letting the people at church see the real you.

This kind of experience stands in stark contrast with the story of the Samaritan Woman, who could stand exposed before Jesus the Messiah, and yet give a remarkable testimony to the people of her town.

“He told me everything I ever did.”

The Samaritan woman was broken and exposed. What was Jesus’ response?


A safe church opens up a space for authenticity and truth

This kind of authentic space where people can share honestly, reveal their brokenness and be themselves should be modeled by a church’s leadership. It’s not easy by any means. It takes a very secure, mature and humble pastor to share his weaknesses and his failures with his church, but when a pastor shares his woundedness it gives a clear message. We are all broken.

Having a safe church, where you can be comfortable enough to share your brokenness offers a kind of relief. You can be real. Yes, you’re messed up, but Jesus came to save sinners. Join the crowd.  Moreover, since your friends at church know the real you, there is none of that fear or anxiousness that comes from having to live a hidden life. In this environment you can truly experience love.

Yeah, we’re all messed up. Join the crowd.

A safe church respects your boundaries and limitations

A safe church will give you space. A safe church will trust your “no.”

My current church asks all of its members to volunteer with one of our Sunday Services, however it’s also understood that sometimes life intervenes. We all have moments in life, where we might be busy or stressed, and so if you’re in a difficult season of life it’s okay to say, “No.”

This past year, I was asked to help out with a new small group. Although it was something I would have loved to participate in, the time wasn’t right for Carla and me, and so I said, “No.”

What was the response of my pastor?

He respected my decision. There was no guilt used against me. There was no shaming or manipulation. My pastor trusted me. We agreed to touch base during the following year. Nothing more needed to be said.

This kind of trust is refreshing. It’s refreshing, because once upon a time life was very different for me. For fifteen years, I participated in a church, where the answer always had to be, “yes.”  Every time, I was asked to “volunteer” for something, the answer had to be “yes.”

  • People are counting on you.
  • This will help the church and other people.
  • We need you.
  • If you can’t do it, it won’t get done.
  • You need to deny yourself.
  • Don’t you value fellowship?
  • Something is wrong with your value system.

It’s a terrible kind of world where the answer always has to be yes. There is a real cost to it. What my experience has taught me is that if your church doesn’t give you the freedom to say, “No”, your “Yes” doesn’t mean anything.

Conversely, there is a kind of remarkable joy and blessing, that comes from saying, “yes” and knowing it came from your heart of hearts.

“This gives me joy, I want to do it. I want to share God’s love in this way.”

It’s a wonderful feeling and one which is made possible when you’re in church that respects your boundaries.

My series on finding a safe church will continue next week.

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