The Impotence of Safe Zones and Safe Churches

Safe Zones

A dark and disturbing trend is descending over institutions of higher learning in our land of the free and home of the brave. Students are demanding “safe zones” on college campuses, where they can be shielded from uncomfortable or dissenting viewpoints. In these so-called, safe places, ideas that might offend are unwelcome. The free exchange of differing viewpoints – free speech as our founding fathers called it – is deemed less important than an environment that doesn’t offend.

Safe ZoneThe sad irony is that safe zones in places of higher learning undermine the very purpose of those places. It is the free exchange of ideas – even offensively different ideas – that encourages growth and learning. How can iron sharpen iron when there is no clashing of thought? Safe zones produce weak minds. It is the conflict that produces growth.

Safe Churches

I’ve heard a lot of chatter recently in religious circles about safe places, safe zones and safe conversations. One pastor has openly declared that his church is a “safe church.” It’s bad enough that hypersensitivity about offending someone has infiltrated schools and workplaces.  But when that attitude creeps into the church, we are in danger of losing our effectiveness.

While I certainly don’t advocate purposely being offensive or confrontational, we mustn’t forget that the truth does indeed confront.   The truth confronts religious tradition. The truth confronts humanism. It confronts sin. Jesus said, “Speak the truth in love.” Such a statement is unnecessary unless the truth has the potential to offend someone.

There is no conversion without conflict.

Many religious leaders have become so obsessed with not offending anyone that they have become spiritually impotent. If your message is so “safe” that no one could possibly object, then it’s too safe to make any real impact.

We shouldn’t purposefully make the message offensive, but the true message will offend some. And if it offends no one, then it has been so diluted that it has lost its power to convert. There is no conversion without conflict. There is no revelation without adversity – just ask John the revelator.

GospelIt wasn’t a watered-down, safe, palatable message of Jesus that caused some to walk away, and at the same time, others to say, “Where else could we go? Only You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus taught some hard sayings. Some rejected Jesus, some accepted Jesus, but rarely, if ever, was anyone indifferent. People were usually either forsaking all to follow Him or picking up stones to kill Him. Some cried, “we’ve never heard this kind of teaching.” Others cried, “blasphemy!”

Revival or Riot?

I’ve often heard people say of the apostles and early church, “Everywhere they went it was revival or riot!” That’s actually not true. It was revival and riot. Think about it. At the same time, it was revival and riot. Their message was so powerful some surrendered all and were converted. Others took up stones to kill them or tried to run them out of town. When’s the last time anyone tried to run us out of town for our message? I’m not advocating that we be purposefully divisive or confrontational. I’m just afraid we’ve become so worried about offending that our message has lost its power to convert.

Safe conversations don’t produce conversions. Safe places don’t have revival. Safe congregations are just places where people congregate.

No Conversion without Conflict

I’ll never forget something I heard from pastor Marrell Cornwell. He said we avoid the conflict. We avoid teaching or preaching parts of the Word that might make someone uncomfortable. When dealing with a potential convert, we like to highlight the blessings of being a Christian, but hide the demands or requirements in the fine print. We avoid telling them the Truth when it might clash with their ideology. We delay sharing the “hard sayings” until we’ve loved them long enough and they love us deep enough that they won’t walk away. What pastor Cornwell said is so profound. He said, “It is the conflict that produces conversion.” We’re avoiding the very thing that produces a true disciple.

We’re reluctant to say, “Yes, baptism must be in Jesus’ Name.” Or, “Yes you must be filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.” We delay as long as possible the talk of holiness or marital fidelity or how fornication is not pleasing to God. We avoid conflict. Yet, we are avoiding the very thing that brings conversion.

“How dare you tell me I was baptized wrong!” “Are you telling me my grandmother wasn’t saved?” “I think all religions just lead to the same place – I can’t accept that Jesus is the only way!” We shy away from conversations that might lead to such responses. But, in doing so, we are shying away from the very thing that produces a convert. There is no conversion without a crisis of faith. It’s the clashing of realities – the painful awareness of one’s lost-ness – that brings conversion. The acceptance of the truth rarely happens without first, a rejection and an offense.

The Early Church

Look at Paul! He kicked against the pricks. He fought the Way. He resisted the Truth. When he finally came face to face with the One, the pillars of his entire religious upbringing came crashing down. But it was the conflict, the crises, and the painful realization that his truth had been error, which brought him to conversion. And what a convert he made!

Too many modern Christians are so afraid of making people uncomfortable that there is nothing in their message that might prick the heart. In safe churches there is no talk of sin, judgment, repentance or the coming of the Lord. But there is no conversion without a pricking of the heart. Just look at the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost.

Speaking in TonguesI heard recently of a so-called, apostolic church that frowns upon anyone speaking in tongues during their services. Spiritual gifts are stifled. In the attempt to be a seeker sensitive, safe church, nothing is done that might appear odd or strange to an unbeliever. On the Day of Pentecost the perturbed crowd cried, “What meaneth this?” But the “What meaneth this” turned into “What must we do?”

There is no birth without pain and conflict. No one is converted without a “passing away” of old things. And a passing away is never easy. There’s always pain involved. There’s always separation involved.

Safe places are impotent. Safe sermons are powerless. Safe churches don’t produce real converts. They are so afraid of running people off that no-one is running to Jesus. May God give us the courage to speak the truth in love. May we preach the truth without fear or favor – for only the Truth can set men free.

~Matthew Ball

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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