“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
When I planted a church almost twenty-five years ago, the time was ripe for church growth. Boomers were trying to make sense of their lives and were returning to church. They knew the story, but had left it behind in search of a better one. Failing to find it, they began to return. Churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback saw many new people attending their “seeker targeted services.”
These Boomers did not want to return to the church they had left. There was a demand for new forms and formats of the church experience. Churches began to create vision and mission statements with slogans that they felt would attract these Boomers. One such statement was “A Safe Place for a Dangerous Message.” We celebrated these evangelistic efforts as we saw many churches begin to grow numerically. It seemed to be working. What wasn’t to celebrate?
A generation later, things do not look as good as we thought. Churches like Willow Creek are admitting that their emphasis on being safe led inadvertently to producing consumers instead of disciples/missionaries. We have to admit that as many churches are closing their doors as have been either planted or are growing. Today we also recognize that the current generations are not seeing the value in Church.
So what do we do? Some are trying even harder to shape their services so that people in their region will come to their church. But David Fitch has commented that we do indeed live in a post environment. We are facing a post-attractional reality where no matter what we do to improve our services; a large percentage of people will not come. We are living in a post-authoritarian culture where we Google everything instead of taking an expert at their word. And we find ourselves in a post-universal languageenvironment where not everyone we meet speaks the language of the Christian story. It is not out of the question in some regions of North America to meet people who have never even heard of Jesus Christ.
The church is no longer at the centre of our culture. We should no longer seek to find our way back to a position of power and privilege, but instead embrace the reality that God will still use us as we learn to exist at the margins. We no longer need to come across as safe, or as appealing to creating a better life for those who will attend our services. In fact, I think the culture doesn’t want safe at all. They want good!
The quote by C.S. Lewis above is more relevant today then when he wrote it. Our God is not safe, (or purely seeking our comfort) but is instead a God of mission, of imagination, of creation. He is one who invites us onto a journey that will see a radical transformation in people and in places as a result of a new Kingdom He has inaugurated. We will not just learn to live a better life in the current kingdom of this world, but learn to live in a whole new reality in the Kingdom of God—now! This reality is anything but safe. And God is anything but safe—but He is good and completely trustworthy. We no longer need to cling to a world that is quickly disappearing, but now must learn to live in the power of God at the margins of this new culture.
Friends, we have come to the end of safety. And that’s a good thing.