Over the past year, “safe zone” has made its way into the English vocabulary. College campuses have carved out physical safe zones where marginalized individuals are included. Some of these spaces are lifestyle- or worldview-specific, including only those who are, for example, homosexual or feminist. Dissenting voices are forbidden.
Many Christians treat the church as a safe zone. Every Sunday they gather with like-minded folks, knowing they can escape the world where religious faith is often mocked and dismissed. In the air-conditioned confines of Sunday school, they sip coffee and listen to a nice lesson, and then attend worship in a pretty sanctuary to hear a nice sermon. They don’t want to be challenged or convicted. No boat-rocking, please — just take me on a pleasure cruise through spiritual platitudes and soothing music.
I’ve noticed that a lot of safe ministry is done on church property, too. We’ll hold pancake suppers and carnivals and snazzy Vacation Bible School programs on the grounds, expecting that people come to us. Some do — most do not.
The world is an unsafe zone, and that’s where the church needs to be. Safe disciples doing safe ministry will never change the world. We are to launch out from “Mission Central” (as one of my pastor friends calls his church) to minister to people who are hurt, lonely, bitter, broken, hungry and homeless. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, said, “In various ways all of us should be constantly finding people and situations that are dead, buried, and covered up in order to help bring them to the light because the God that we service is a God of light, a God of love, and a God of caring.”
I have to confess, I have not always done this. There are times when Christ has handed me the ball and I fumbled it. Just a few months ago, my wife and I were strolling the streets of Oxford, England when we passed a young woman quietly weeping in the recessed entrance of a college. I turned to Laura and whispered, “Did you see that girl?” “I did,” she replied. “Poor thing, she must have failed a test.”
For a few moments, the image of the girl haunted me — and then I quickly forgot about her as we continued our merry way. I wonder what difference God could have made through me if I had stopped and asked the girl if I could help? Maybe I could’ve lent a listening ear or offered to pray for her. Of course, she could’ve told me to get lost, but isn’t that the chance we believers should take? Jesus never promised that we would be universally accepted. But He did encourage us to scatter the seed of God’s Word everywhere we go.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, the main character is a lion named Aslan, who is a symbol of Christ. A talking Beaver whose name is, quite appropriately, Mr. Beaver, tells a little girl named Susan that Aslan is a great lion. When Susan hears this, she says, “Ooh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mr. Beaver laughs: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Jesus didn’t play it safe. Neither should His followers. Yes, the church-house is a great place to be on Sunday morning, but it is only the starting gate. Let us follow the Great Lion of Judah out of the building to wherever He takes us during the week, to whomever He wants us to meet.
Image of “The Spirit of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” used with permission by John the Baptist Artworks