3 Reasons Why the "Safe" Argument is Killing Churches

"Wouldn't it be safer if . . . ." I know the argument. I have used it in the past. But rarely anymore. Because the safe argument is killing churches. Why? Here are the reasons. (Above is a funny illustration from Francis Chan of those that live life scared, courtesy of Joy Rousseau)

  1. #1 - It paints a harsh, legalistic view of God. The argument is this. If God did not specifically tell us to do something, or if we do something that is unclear, we risk making God angry and having him strike us down.

    Is this really the God that is found in the Bible--that those who are genuinely seeking him God is ready and eager to strike down? Is that how you approach your children? That when you leave them at home, if they, say, cleaned up the house but in that process ended up moving a piece of furniture that you did not want moved, that you are angry with them?

    That is not at all how I approach my children. If they do something inadvertently wrong while seeking to do good, I am not angry with them. I not waiting to eagerly punish them.

    The Bible repeatedly speaks of God as a Father, and that should teach us something. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that we should believe that God wants to give us good things, and that if we ask for a fish, he won't give us a snake. In other words, he is not wanting to zap us when we genuinely are seeking him.

    And there is other biblical evidence for this. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah and the people come back to God and offer sacrifices again. And some of them get it wrong, though their hearts are right. And Hezekiah asks God to forgive them. And he does.

    "18 Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone19 who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.' 20 And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people" (2 Chr. 30:18-20).

    This should be our prayer for us and others. One of the reasons that young people are fleeing our fellowship is not just individual issues, those some of these are important to them. It is because of this harsh, unreasonable and vindictive view of God that, intentionally, or unintentionally, is being painted.

  2. #2 - It prevents the doing of much good (and is spoken against in Scripture). In the parable of the Talents, the one talent man hid his talent out of fear and took the "safe" course of burying his talent. Here was his reasoning and the Master's response:

    24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave"!

    This parable shows that the Master rewarded the one took initiative and did good. The fearful servant--the one who had a harsh, legalistic view of God--was reprimanded for his fear and lack of doing good. He wasted the opportunities that the Master gave to him.

    The Pharisees are another classic example. They used the "safe" argument, such as building a hedge around the law so that there was no chance that anyone would violate the law itself. And Jesus said that they heaped burdens upon the people and made their converts twice as much sons of hell as they themselves were (Mt. 23).

    How many people have been driven away because of the "safe" argument? How many young people have not been reached for God because of the safe argument? How many people have failed to be impacted for Christ because of the "safe" argument? If we think that God is going to be pleased with us because we did nothing--more pleased than if we sought to do all the good that we could and perhaps missed on something despite our best efforts--then we have not taken in or understood the message of this parable.

  3. #3 - It kills initiative, kills creativity, and stunts our spiritual growth. This is true not only if God is viewed in this harsh way, but also if church leaders take the same approach to others.

    If people are constantly afraid of being chastised or criticized by their leaders, then they will stop even trying to do anything good. If every decision comes down to the least common denominator (as is so often the case), then pretty soon, no proposals will be made. Nothing creative will be done. Why try if you are always going to be shot down? And the result is a very controlled, very dull, very beaten down church and group of Christians.

    We fail to grow if we do not take risks for God. Why did Jesus send out the disciples in the Limited Commission without their "purse"? Why did he send them out as sheep among wolves, two by two? Because they needed to grow in their dependence upon God and one another.

    If missionaries took the "safe" course and took no risks--sought to control things so that there would be absolutely no opportunity for harm to themselves or their families, well, most would never go. But it is because people like Paul in the New Testament risked their lives, were beaten, stoned, ridiculed, and more, that the gospel spread.

So the next time we sit around a discussion table and someone says, Wouldn't it be safer . . . . , well, we should ask: 1) is that the view of God we read about in Scripture?; 2) what opportunity and people will be lost by us failing to act; and 3) what opportunity for people to serve, create, and grow spiritually will be missed?

If "Safety is First," then that means our mission is not first. And that, my friends, is why so many churches are not growing. Tradition, safety, keeping the peace--these have become our mission. And that does not reach people for Christ or grow the church.

What issues do you see with the "safe" argument"?

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Comment by James Nored on June 5, 2013 at 11:39pm

@Bill - Yes, Jesus did not choose the "safe" path. Great point, Bill.

Comment by Bill Sheppard on June 5, 2013 at 10:37pm

Christ did not take the safe path but laid out for him by the Father.  Some do take the safe path and stay in our buildings, while people across the street are hurting. I have a safe office, but 15 feet  from my door is a man is in jail for murder and less than 2 weeks ago he killed his new cellmate. Another 20 feet from my door is a group of men who hunger for church, as they have been missed by various church groups. They got church in a room with Jesus and a seeking follower. 

Comment by James Nored on June 4, 2013 at 7:55pm

@John Miller and @Bill Green - You are two of my shepherding heroes and dear friends. I would love to get you guys together some time. Thanks for helping elders and churches step out of "safety" and down the adventurous path of following Jesus! Bill, as you say, leadership involves taking risks for God. The parable of the Talents shows that very clearly.

Comment by John on June 4, 2013 at 7:05pm

James, truer words were never written.


Comment by Bill J Green on June 4, 2013 at 6:02pm
A great topic! Some of the blame lies with the members. Just last year a friend told me their church had strong elders, meaning they set the Law down, no clapping, no raising hands, etc. These leader are looked up to as spiritual giants! Until we can study these things with the church, elders will take the safe way and be led by fear of offending someone. Leadership must be "risk takers". We are deficient on elders studying together regarding biblical spiritual leadership based the example of Jesus!
Comment by James Nored on June 4, 2013 at 3:52pm

@Bob - Thanks, Bob! Always appreciate your feedback
@Chancellor Carlyle Roberts II - These decisions are always very personal and must be decided by the person involved. I hope that God blesses your decision.

@Tim Moore - Yes, excellent point about the Pharisees. They are a classic example. I should have included that! I will make an addition. Thank you!
@Lynn Nored - Great point about conflict not necessarily being bad, but how we handle it. I think that I will write a whole article on that.

Comment by Lynn S. Nored on June 4, 2013 at 3:40pm

The "safety" argument is often stated in ways.  Many elderships will not allow any action that might cause "conflict."  Their greatest concern is to be sure there is nothing done that will "upset" or might "offend" someone.  Most often this concerns things done during the worship service but pertains to others matters as well.  Elderships are usually highly resistant to any "change".  In fact avoidance of "change" is the result of the "safe" approach.  Scripture tells us we are to grow --in knowledge, faith, maturity, and service.  Growth requires change.  It is impossible to grow without change.  Change by its very nature means there is a difference.  Difference will cause conflict.  But, contrary to popular opinion, conflict within itself is not "bad".  It is how we personally and corporately handle conflict that results in a good or bad result.   The lack of conflict in or to be "safe" will result in a stunted congregation, weak Christians, and a weak, congregation.   Most often the congregation and elders pat themselves on the back because everyone "gets alone" and "we" dont have the problems other congregation deal with.  Did Jesus indicate that Christians should "play it safe?"

Comment by Tim Moore on June 4, 2013 at 1:39pm

Thank you for this article. I have been on this topic lately as well. Another thing... Isn't that the same argument the Pharisees used? So then they drew up lines to define what the people of God could and couldn't do? Then policed the people of God? And who did Jesus come down on harder than anyone? Know what I mean? 

Comment by Chancellor C. Roberts II on June 4, 2013 at 1:27pm

I turned down a job in Tajikistan because of "safety," I've since repented of that and am now taking a job in Kazakhstan in order to serve in tentmaker ministry.

Comment by Bob Young on June 4, 2013 at 12:59pm

A needed topic, well said!

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