Do you feel threatened by church?
February 10, 2020
Maybe you don’t feel welcome in church and while you love Jesus - or you want to love Him - you’ve asked too many questions about faith that make people accustomed to church culture feel incredibly uncomfortable.

Perhaps you’re one of the uncomfortable Christians who thinks society today threatens to undermine “everything” you and the church “stand for.” 

It’s pretty normal, then, that you’d want to protect yourself and the norms inside your church from the world “out there” because it’s entirely possible that your church community is the only place where you feel safe.



Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

I’ve been reading and writing about change - nearly every day this year.

There’s probably no more important aspect of change than what I’m sharing in this piece.

The article is rough and deserves about an hour’s worth of edits, but it’s too important for me to not hit “publish” today.

So thank you for bearing with the clunkiness in a few places.

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First, let me say that my heart is with you if you fit into either of these extreme scenarios - or if you’re somewhere in between.

Second, know that I’ve been both of these people in some weird way - afraid of differences threatening my safe places and rejecting people who might change everything in my comfort zone.

Mostly, though, I identify with the people who love Jesus but don’t feel welcome in church environments.

In Live in Grace, Walk in Love, Bob Goff addresses situations like this.

He talks about what happened to his faith when he sought out people who didn’t feel welcome in church.

These people taught Goff “…that we grow when we are loved, not when we are merely informed. These new friends were told they had to change in order to belong, so they decided not to belong.”

Goff continues:

What they heard was rejection, so they found people who accepted them just as they were. Some of these friends found different churches, while others just found good friends. They found places where they were loved.


The challenge Goff issues at the end of this devotional is:

What if we showed grace and loved them rather than trying to change them? People grow when they are loved.


But how do we change our culture inside the walls of our churches?

And how do those of us who love Jesus actually find a church where we not only feel safe but are safe?

Where will we find a church that loves us despite our tattoos or the addiction that won’t let go of us, or the mental health issues that others have said is a result of lack of faith?

We’ve been hurt so badly that the idea of trying again in a new church could - no kidding - be catastrophic to our mental health.


My friend Steve Austin helps churches become safe havens for discussions about mental health - and safe havens for women and men looking to take their meds and love Jesus at the same time.

I’m involved in Celebrate Recovery ministries in churches and see what happens when people - whether or not they’re followers of Christ - apply the 12 steps of recovery.

Don’t tell anybody, but the 12 steps of recovery are nothing more than the application and systemization of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught. You can find the text of that sermon beginning in Matthew 5.

As a result of our interests, Steve and I have talked a ton about what it looks like when churches take seriously Jesus’ command to love one another - as He has loved us. 

Sacrificially.

I talked with a friend recently who’s facing a geographic relocation. This friend is excited and saddened all at the same time because of the love she’s developed for her community of faith.

Will she find this kind of love and acceptance in a new community?

How will she know where it’s safe to share her struggles?


Ten years ago, if you’d told me I’d be serving at a church, I’d have laughed at you.

Jesus and I did our relationship on my front porch every Sunday morning. I certainly didn’t need any hypocrites in my life to help me know God.

Today, I'm serving in two churches.

This past weekend, I got to be a teeny, tiny participant in Tim Tebow’s Night to Shine event - a global movement that celebrates people with disabilities.

One of the local churches where I serve has been a host of the event for the past four years.

There were something like 500 kings and queens - guests of the dance - and 900-ish volunteers.

I’ve tried all weekend to attach words to the experience, but I can’t do it.

Check out Facebook and Instagram for #fsnighttoshine to get a taste of what happened here in my hometown.

You’ll see joy.

If you love Jesus, you’ll see Him on the faces of kings, queens, and volunteers.

Night to Shine is a brief moment where we all celebrate being broken - no one person more broken than the other - and we rejoice in the opportunity to share our gifts with someone else.

Cutting a rug on the dance floor.

Singing karaoke to Friends in Low Places and knowing how much fun it is to say “whiskey” and “beer” in church.

The lights inside the party limo.

Tired feet.

Sore hands from tying thousands of bows.

Making gallons upon gallons of hot chocolate.

And long after the guests are gone, the clean-up crew working late into the night to get the church ready for Sunday morning services.


So what does Night to Shine have to do with the very real cultural divide that exists in our churches today?

Those of us inside the church who feel safer by excluding people who aren’t like us, telling them they’re welcome - but only if they conform?

Events like Night to Shine transform us from the inside out.

By throwing open the doors and inviting in the community, churches build relationships.

Volunteers from outside the church who may not have a church home are now ready for the worst days of their lives. 

In the moment when they need Jesus, they will remember the love and acceptance they felt at Night to Shine.

They’ll show up, ready to be loved.

And the women and men inside the church will know how to see them as God’s beloved - not as their deficiency.

Another really cool thing about events like Night to Shine is that leaders from other churches in the region get involved.

One of my biggest disappointments growing up is that not all churches were equal.

Not only do churches see Jesus differently, in my fourth-grade mind, it was heartbreaking and infuriating for churches to trash talk other churches like only one “brand” of Jesus had the market cornered on heaven.

Night to Shine breaks that barrier.

Volunteers come from lots of churches, as do parents and caregivers of the kings and queens.

My friend Chris Benjamin - the preacher at WestArk Church of Christ - calls Night to Shine the upside-down kingdom of heaven.

It’s where the leaders actually serve - and learn from the so-called “least” of us. It’s where we learn that there is no difference in God’s eyes between the most important in our society and the rest of us.


I think these are the concepts - lived out in real life - that brought me back to church.

I’ve seen with my own eyes the past four years how Night to Shine has transformed one church.

And I’ve experienced in my own life the transformational power of Celebrate Recovery ministries.

The broken heal. Then they’re ready to lead and to serve others.

Talk about a beautiful recycling program!

That’s what Celebrate Recovery does for the Kingdom of God.


No matter which camp you’re in - terrified of changing the culture of your church, or feeling unwelcome inside a church - there’s hope for you.

If you’re a frightened church member:


  1. Study the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t just read it. Study it. Grab a Bible commentary or check out the study Bible notes. Pray through it. Journal your way through the passages. 
  2. Find a church that hosts a Celebrate Recovery, Night to Shine, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry, or some similar program. You don’t hafta wait until it’s time for big events associated with these ministries. Just show up some Sunday or Wednesday. See what it’s like on any given Sunday in these churches that place a priority on loving your community well.

If you’ll do these things, my guess is that you’ll be reminded of who God is, and why you chose to follow Him in the first place. You’ll experience the Holy Spirit through the body of Christ that maybe you haven’t felt in a while. And you’ll crave this kind of change in your church.

If you’re a Christ-follower who feels unsafe in church:


  1. Study the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t just read it. Study it. Grab a Bible commentary or check out the study Bible notes. Pray through it. Journal your way through the passages. 
  2. Find a church that hosts a Celebrate Recovery, Night to Shine, Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry, or some similar program. You don’t hafta wait until it’s time for big events associated with these ministries. Just show up some Sunday or Wednesday. See what it’s like on any given Sunday in these churches that place a priority on loving your community well.

Yeah. It’s the same advice I gave to the person who is afraid of you. 

Funny how that works, right?

If you’ll do these things, my guess is you’ll find at least one follower of Christ who not only struggles with the same thing that makes you feel marginalized. And they’re going to admit that struggle to you. They’ll assure you that they don’t have all the answers, that they’re working out their struggle with fear and trembling, too. But that they’ve found joy within the struggle because of a community of believers who help them imperfectly model the love of Christ.

About you

  1. What ministries in your church help you feel connected to people who aren’t like you?
  2. Have you been hurt by Christians? What’s the best advice you have for Christ-followers who want to learn to love YOU well?

Interested in more ideas like this?

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Thanks for reading.

-Tracy
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