The Face of a Safe Church

Photo by Mary and her camera via Flickr

Yesterday, I read one of the final chapters in Cloud and Townsend's Safe People, titled "Where are the safe people?" In this chapter, the authors give practical advice on finding safe relationships.

It would seem that the obvious place to look for safe, healthy friendships would be the church. Cloud and Townsend, though, write honestly about the imperfect state of the church. They explain that people are often looking for a church with good doctrine but don't think to assess the relational health of the body. To help people in their search, the authors outline the characteristics of a safe church.
Safe Churches
One place where we can find safe people is in churches that have a safe character as a group. Many churches have good orthodox doctrine, but they are not bodies where relationship is really preached and community is formed. Safe churches, however, have the following qualities:
  • Grace is preached from the pulpit and is the foundation for how people are to be treated.
  • Truth is preached without compromise, but also without a spirit of law and judgment.
  • The church leaders are aware of their own weaknesses and need to grow and are open about their hurt, pain, failings, and humanity. Instead of "having it all together" and being insulated from confrontation and change, they are in a process of healing and opening up to their own safe people for support and accountability.
  • The church uses small groups to touch people's lives, and sermons focus on community in the body of Christ as well as doctrine.
  • The culture is one of forgiven sinners, not self-righteous religious Pharisees.
  • The church, instead of being a self-contained unit and thinking it has all the answers, is networked into community, availing itself of input from other sources such as churches, professionals, and organizations. 
  • The teaching has a relational emphasis as well as a vertical one. relationship between people is seen as part of spirituality as well as relationship to God.
  • The teaching sees brokenness, struggle, and inability as normal parts of the sanctification process.
  • There are opportunities to serve others through a variety of ministries.
Churches have personalities and cultures, and it is possible to find churches that fit the above characteristics. (164-165)
Having had some very negative church experiences myself, I related to much of what the authors write. As I read their description of a safe church, I realized that many (if not all) of my bad experiences took place in unsafe churches.

I also felt very thankful as I read through the list. About five years ago, God brought me to a safe church. At the time, I didn't even know what I was looking for. But God knew what I needed, and He has brought much healing into my life through the fellowship I now have.