The Big Picture Podcast 60: Should Your Church Be A Safe Place?

The Big Picture Podcast 60: Should Your Church Be A Safe Place? January 21, 2015


Welcome to the Big Picture Podcast. I’m Joel Fieri and this podcast seeks to begin and hopefully sustain a conversation about current trends, ideas and issues in the Church and greater society.

This week’s podcast is led by a guy we call the Backrow Baptist.

You’ve seen the guy in the back pew with his hands in his pocket because he can’t quite clap in rhythm, right? That’s the BRB.

Or if you haven’t seen him, his off-beat clapping has probably thrown you off once or twice.

Well, he’s back on the Big Picture to tell us what he’s seen from the back of the church that you earnest up-front folks may be missing. And what he sees is that everything’s, well… okay.

Church is a nice place in America these days. It’s not as popular as it used to be, but it’s comfortable. You can come as you are, there’s usually plenty of parking, your kids will be entertained (until their number comes up on that board thingy and you have to go get them).

They put on a pretty good show in church these days, too – rock and roll or emo or country, maybe hymns still – whatever floats your boat. With coffee and danish, even.

Something for everybody.

Yeah, church is a nice place. Very – comfortable. Very… safe.

Safe enough for a guy to slip in the back row most Sundays without being approached for a hug or being asked to serve, that’s for sure. It’s BRB heaven really.  Because it’s so…safe.

We’re safe, our kids are safe, the pastor’s safe. There’s a lot to be said for safety, especially in our world today.

But should church be a ‘safe’ place?

In some ways, absolutely yes. Church should be a ‘safe haven’, as our own Dewey Bertolini puts it at his home ministry in Oregon. Safe for anyone and everyone who is searching or hurting or broken or cynical to come without hindrance to meet God and worship him without condemnation or interference.

Church in many ways is a hospital. Jesus certainly modeled this when he welcomed the little children, the tax collectors, prostitutes, even the thief on the cross next to Him. And so should we.

But there’s another side to the safety coin, a side that International Justice Mission President Gary Haugen calls the ‘bondage of safety’. This is what he said recently – “I go to earnest, Christ-centered, thoughtful, prosperous churches, tremendously hobbled and hindered by a basic bondage to… safety!”. And what he means by that is that today’s churches aren’t “in trouble”. And because they’re not in trouble, they don’t “desperately need God”, and because they don’t desperately need Him, they don’t “gloriously experience His power”.

Churches play it safe by relying on programming instead of prayer, “and if God doesn’t show up,” he says “it’s not a disaster”.

Again, we can see this modeled by Jesus. No one would ever accuse Him of playing things safe. He made trouble just about everywhere He went. His mission on Earth certainly wasn’t safe, and he didn’t keep his disciples close in a ‘holy huddle’ either. He sent them out into the world, with His power.

I think he’s on to something here.

So, how do we break this ‘bondage to safety’?

According to Mr. Haugen, it’s by getting involved in fighting slavery and human trafficking around the world like he does. To which I say ‘amen’! I’m all for that.

But what can we do here to break free of ‘safe Church’, so we can ‘desperately need God’ and then ‘experience His power’?

Well, one way would be to stop worrying about our p.c. reputation and more about staying true to the Gospel. Or more about spreading God’s Kingdom throughout our communities and the world than what our worship style is or whether we’re pre-trib or post-trib in our eschatology.

Either way, we won’t have to go looking for trouble for long before it finds us, especially now as our culture is turning hostile. Which may just be WHAT we need to turn us towards WHO we need.

But is it just churches that ‘desperately need God’? What about us as individuals?

A few episodes back on the podcast I told my own story of a time when I found myself in trouble behind the Iron Curtain years ago. It’s called “A Cold Warrior In Hot Water”, and if you haven’t heard it, please look back on the web site and give it a listen.

After listening to that show, my wife asked me how it was that I could remember so vividly something that happened to me over thirty years ago. And I think it has something to do with the fact that back then I was in trouble. That was the riskiest thing I’ve ever done, and when it started to unravel, I started praying! Earnestly, fervently, desperately praying. I’ve never needed God, or at least felt the need for Him, more than at the moment when I realized that I could be slammed into a communist prison for attempting to bring God’s Word into Romania.  And if you’ve heard that podcast, you know that through that trouble and prayer, God answered and taught me the biggest lesson of my life.

But then you know what happened after all that? I came home and started playing it safe. I did a few more slightly risky things for God in my twenties, but then I started to live a ‘safe life’ in my ‘safe church’, and it’s continued to this day.

So I guess the question is, as churches and individuals, are we willing to do whatever might be necessary to break us out of our safety and onto our knees in desperation? Can we find a balance between creating safe places for hurting and searching people to come, and going out into the world and getting into trouble?

And that’s today report from the BRB as he’s thinking of leaving the safety of the back pew to actually move up a few rows, which could mean trouble if you’re trying to keep your rhythm.

In closing, it’s time for the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, the segment of our podcast where we meet and hear the stories of those who have given, and some who are still giving, their lives by faith in the promises of God, and of whom the world was and is not worthy (if you don’t know that reference, please check out Hebrews chapter 11-12 in your Bible).

Today’s witness is William Tyndale:  accused heretic, persecuted Christ-follower, Bible translator and martyr:

“…but Master Tyndale, you must admit”, scoffed the learned doctor of theology, “that men are better with the laws of the church that they can understand than God’s own law in the Bible!”

William Tyndale fumed at this. “I defy the priests and their laws! If God sees fit to let me live, then it won’t be long before any boy who drives a plow will know the Scriptures better than they do!”

His remark caused a grudge between Tyndale and the established church. He soon fled England for the mainland, where he produced his “outlaw” version of the New Testament in English.

For years, Tyndale’s small New Testaments were smuggled into bales of cotton, aboard German ships and any other place where they could secretly enter England. However, Tyndale was then betrayed by a “friend”, Henry Philips, and tried for heresy.

While William Tyndale remained in prison more than a year awaiting execution, it is believed that he finished the Old Testament translation in English. His last words before being burned at the stake in October of 1536 were, “Lord! Open the king’s eyes!”

God did. Only a year after Tyndale’s martyrdom, the monarchy allowed the first English Bible to be legally printed. The King James Authorized Version appeared seventy-five years later. Today’s King James Version of the Bible matches an estimated ninety percent of Tyndale’s work word-for-word.

William Tyndale was a trouble maker, wasn’t he? And, literally, thank God he was! We have His Word because Tyndale didn’t play it safe, with the Bible or even his own life. So, for all his trouble and faith and sacrifice, I hereby nominate William Tyndale to the Great Cloud Of Witnesses, of whom the world is not worthy.

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