Where are the Safe Churches?

by | Authentic Spirituality | 0 comments

Is the church you pastor a safe church? Is it a place where people are accepted just as they are? A place where weakness is celebrated rather than exploited? Where people are encouraged to be open about their struggles and shortcomings so that other believers may encourage them and pray for them?

No? Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. In John 13:34-35 Jesus gave us a new commandment. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How will people recognize that we are disciples of Jesus? By our love. Wow.

Unfortunately, in my experience, it is rare for a church to be known for its love. Hypocrisy, judgmental, cold, yes. Love? Not so much. Too often fear is the primary motivator and not love.

Why is love so rare? There are many reasons but one of them is that too few Christians understand the gospel. Too few understand the gospel as taught by Jesus. Why? Because it goes against all of our natural instincts.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Paradoxes abound in Jesus’ teachings. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” – John 6:53. How can we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus? Taken literally these words make no sense.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

How do we get to where God wants us to be? How do we become love? The same way Jesus did it. He is in fact our example. By dying to our old life. To our old motivations. To the ways of the world. By being willing to look foolish in the eyes of the world. Too often we want to be considered followers of Jesus while winning a popularity contest with the world. We can’t have it both ways.

How do we love like Jesus did? By letting go. Surrendering our life to God. Spending time every day in his presence. By trusting the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives and obeying his commands.

For the longest time I thought that I had to somehow find the willpower to do what Jesus did. Jesus commands me to love my enemies? Ok, I’ll do my best! And I did try but no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to succeed.

The opposite happened. The harder I tried to love, the more aware I became of how self-centered and selfish I really am. It was also hard work. It felt like I was on a human-sized hamster wheel. No matter how much effort I expended, I was no closer to doing what God wanted than when I started. I had to get to the place where I gave up.

Gave up being good. Gave up trying to act like I had it all together. The road hasn’t been easy. It has had a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes it has felt like there have been more downs than ups. Through it all though, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me. Hebrews 5:8 says “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

In the next post on Safe Church, I’ll outline how embracing suffering helps us learn how to love.