(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Is the Church Your Safe Place?
By Brittney Perez
I found this to be an interesting question because growing up in the church you can find it rather easy to go about serving and doing “church,” that the idea of what church truly is can get lost in the busyness of routine. You could say I grew up in the church. My family started going to church when I was 7 years old, and I have continued to go since. Having gone to a few different churches over the years I have been able to experience God through His body, the church, in different ways. I have met many people from various walks of life and have had the privilege of serving God through a variety of ministries.
Growing up in the church, I have seen the church change in many ways. I feel that sometimes when people think of church, they think of it as this place that is unlike any other building. It’s holy, it’s a place you go to meet with God. And, because of that, it couldn’t possibly be a place where there could be issues. One thing I want to clarify upfront is that while church is a place that you go to meet with God, it’s also a place where you find sinners–sinners that are in desperate need of a Savior. As Jesus said in Luke 5:31, “’It is not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.’” With that being said, where you have sinners, you could have issues with other people, even in ministry. It’s how you go about handling the issues when they arise that matters and can change how you view church.
As I mentioned, growing up in the church I have had the ability and privilege of meeting many people from various walks of life. It’s been such a blessing to my life to have been able to meet so many people from churches in my area over the years that love God, seek to live their lives for Him, and encourage me in the faith!
In 1 Corinthians 12:27 it says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” This is such a true statement. When Paul compared the church to the human body, it gives you a great visual for how the church should function. Each person in the body of Christ has a place and a purpose, just like the human body has many parts that make up the body and help it function properly. It truly is a beautiful thing. Much like the human body, which needs all its parts to be in good health to function properly the church also needs that “health.” We know that the body can get sick; it’s fragile and if one part isn’t healthy, the whole body can be affected. This is similar to the church—if issues occur it can affect the church “body” and potentially cause unwanted harm or damage.
Unfortunately, we find that at times our bodies do get sick. Even more so, we find that the church body can experience this “sickness” in a different way. Sometimes this “sickness” in the church can stem from issues that can come up with different people and can make church feel not so much like a safe place. This isn’t to mean physical safety, but emotional safety. God created us to be relational beings. We enjoy making friendships and sharing our lives with others. That’s how we get to know people, by sharing our lives and allowing others to share their lives with us. Regardless if we are inside or outside of the church, we are still human, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and ideologies. These very things help make up who we are, and we carry these traits around with us everywhere we go. I feel that sometimes we can almost act as though everyone leaves “who they are” at home when they come to church, but that’s not the case. It can be easy to forget that sinners go to church, not the already perfected. I believe this is something important that we need to keep in mind.
In my personal experience, I have heard of and seen people come and go out of churches because of hurt feelings. I feel in many cases this happens because of the high expectations we can place on other people and church. Being hurt by others in the church can cause people to feel weary of viewing church as a safe place. One thing to keep in mind is that conflict with people will occur whether you are a part of the church or not. In other words, issues are a part of life. I personally have experienced this in the church and in ministry. There have been moments, even at church, where I have felt I wasn’t safe sharing personal information with certain individuals in fear of my personal information getting out that I didn’t want shared and, to be honest, in fear of being judged. Sometimes in the church you see “drama” happen and it can cause you to question if church is a safe place. If you have ever been hurt by someone’s words or actions in the church or in general, you know how it feels and can cause you to not feel safe.
Because of this, you can start to question if you can trust anyone and that’s not a good feeling. It’s also not healthy and can cause you to feel this need to isolate yourself. When we do this, it can be a perfect opportunity for the enemy to feed us lies and keep us from sharing in fellowship with others.
Conflict is something I don’t like. If you’re like me, you may find it easier to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself instead of approaching a situation or someone who has hurt you. Something I have learned over the years and feel I have gotten better at is handling conflict with people. Before, if someone at church said something that I was hurt by, I wouldn’t say anything and keep it to myself. What was wrong with this was that every time I would see that person, I would be triggered by the remembrance of what they said or did. I realized what I was allowing resentment and bitterness to spring up in my heart and that isn’t what God desires (Hebrews 12:15 NIV). He wants to see a healthy church body with His children living in unity. By approaching the conflict at hand, I found I was able to express my feelings, hear the other party out, and seek peace, unity, and forgiveness, which always yields a far greater reward than pain, bitterness, and resentment! Upon approaching that conflict, it would feel like that sickness of the body was healed and restored and church, which at the time may have felt like an unsafe place, felt like home again.
Though sharing our lives and personal information with people can almost feel like a risk, it’s beneficial and you may find the benefits outweigh the risk! When we share our lives with people in fellowship, we can find and receive encouragement, prayer, and an ear to listen (James 5:16 NIV). I’ve come to find whenever I have chosen to keep things to myself, due to fear of getting hurt or being judged, I begin to feel distant from people in the church and the enemy uses that against me. Instead of feeling that unity, I start to feel swallowed up by my own thoughts, I start thinking that people will pass judgment on me, and I begin to feel depressed and lonely. It’s when I release my thoughts and concerns to God and begin opening up to others that I receive peace and that feeling of safety restored.
If you have been hurt by anyone in the church, then you may know what it’s like to feel church is not a safe place. You may even have reservations about going to church in fear that the same issues will arise. While your personal information is your own and you have the freedom to share what you want, the first step to seeing church as a safe place begins with the reason why you are there. Are you there for people or are you there for God? Being human, it can be so easy to go about our usual church routine (i.e. doing ministry, talking with people, serving, etc.), that we can quickly forget why we do church. If God isn’t the reason we are there then we will always be disappointed. We’ll be disappointed by people, and even ministry, because people will fail us, but God never will. He’s solid. When we go to church for God—to seek God, serve Him, and enjoy the body of Christ (His church)—we can gain a totally different perspective and feel that safety of church. It’s when we go for other reasons aside from these that we will start to easily see all the flaws and faults, which make church feel not so much like a safe place. In the end, it’s not about us, it’s about God.
So, question: Is church your safe place?
If the answer is yes, then why is it your safe place? If your answer is no, why do you think that is? Is it for any of the reasons mentioned above? Is it you? Is it other people? Do you think it’s God?
As it says in Psalm 139:24-23 NIV, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” As you ponder these questions, my prayer for you is that you would search your heart and allow God to search it as well. Ask Him to reveal to you the true reasons for why we have church and why you are (or are not) a part of it. My prayer is that if you feel church is your safe place and that you would continue in that safely, ultimately knowing that it’s because of GOD that a church feels like a safe place, not because of man. If you feel church is not a safe place, my prayer for you is that God would restore the areas of your heart where may have been hurt by people inside or outside of the church, and that you would find healing that will allow you to leave any trace of bitterness or hurt behind and allow you to step into what God has in store for you.