…Do you want to communicate ‘safe’ or something else?

The news of two horrible shooting incidents in Colorado recently brings back to the national spotlight what I have been shouting from the rooftops for years to church leaders.  If your church is more than simply providing chaplaincy services to your city in a maintenance capacity, wake up and smell the coffee about the dynamic that happens when we invite the city to church. 

As I understand it the idea we are all all about is simply "Invite, Invite, Invite."  With the "Come hither" message, people actually do begin to believe they are welcome.  Go figure!  People in the community take us at our word.  No tricks necessary to get people to show up.  We have the same going for us as did the Church in Acts – the very love, presence and acceptance of a very present God who transforms lives by his presence.   His presence is the attraction – always has been, always will be.  Those who are most desperately broken are often the most in touch with an awareness of God’s very presence.  Sometimes those of us who have a tradition mindset etched into our cerebellum, we can miss that transformational presence. 

When you and I invite the city to church, the city tends to come to church. 

My grandpa’s church was filled with Kansas wheat farmers.  Nice folks.  Not a one of them would have liked any of the five churches Janie and I have launched though.  While I love every one of these wonderful people, I usually welcome newcomers and simultaneously explain a bit about this place by saying, "I encourage you to lock your doors.  We are just that kind of church.  I love it tremendously – I hope you do too!"  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be a part of a church where it wasn’t necessary to lock your doors.  If you want to join such a place, God bless you.  There are an abundance of such places right down the street from you I’m certain.  They aren’t for Janie and me. 

When God is up to great things, hurting people will appear at your church.  (Heads up – they usually sit in the front row!)  Those hurting people come in all kinds of descriptions and states of mental wellness or lack thereof. 

(Please do not categorize the ‘troubled ones’ as being in general the ones who have ‘not yet met Jesus.’  That is simply not the way things work.  As you begin to deal with this issue with your leadership crew, if you apply labels to people coming your way, your board might well become fearful of what might happen.  This categorization business is nonsense and bears no resemblance to the way Jesus treated people.  This could easily scare your board away from Jesus’ current call to the outward aim.) 

There is not a huge difference between the troubled mental states of not-yet believers who are in need of medication-therapy and already believers.  The man who did the violence this past weekend needed profound intervention.  As the story has been explained, it is apparent the young man who did the shooting was some sort of believer, yet was in tremendous need of therapy, medication and who knows what beyond that. 

If time allowed I could tell you literally hundreds of stories of the vagabonds who had been cast off by family, friends, etc., yet they were willing to check out our church for at least a while in hopes of a life altering, God-sized encounter.  With some, that occurred.  Sadly, with some, in the end they simply walked away with their heads held low. 

Great amounts of love flowing through you and me, our crew of fellow Jesus Followers is sometimes in need of augmenting.  Many years ago I hired several off duty, uniformed, armed police people to be present every time our facilities were open.  I took a lot of heat for this decision from our board at the time.  They told me this was a waste of money.  You can perhaps imagine the negative feedback from some, but honestly, the feedback from our weekend crew was 110% simply POSITIVE!  I received letters galore along the lines of "Thank you for watching out for our family in this special way.  You obviously have our safety and interests in mind.  I love this place – you seem to think of everything.  More than ever I want to bring ALL my friends here!" 

I never anticipated as violent a crime as what happened this weekend in Colorado, but we have seen violence occur on our property – including some pretty looney things even while I have been speaking. 

Who Will We Protect?
Jesus spoke of the good hearted shepherd being the one who would leave the ninety-nine behind and at risk in order to search for the one who had gone astray.  That is indeed the heart of a true shepherd.  That is, the shepherd who values the individual more than the system. 

The kingdom of God and wise leadership are a multi-faceted matter.  It calls for ones who can chew gum and bounce a basketball at the same time. 

A shepherd-leader is one who is aware that safety is a huge ‘sheepish’ issue.  Such a shepherd-leader is aware that we as leaders are in charge of gathering times because God has delegated that leadership to us.  God’s kingdom is all about ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…’  It is impossible for those descriptions to be held high in people’s hearts when they are fearful that something unsafe could happen to them or worse, to their children.  When an armed, uniformed police person is strolling about who smiles and doesn’t come across like Barney Fife on caffeine, people feel safe. 

Don’t wait until an out of control event occurs as with us on numerous occasions…  This unmedicated, manic, bipolar lady decided she wanted to claim the baby whose number appeared during a Sunday evening service.  When she couldn’t produce the security number the mother had been given, she reached over the half door, snatched the infant, and ran! 

Thank God an ex-football player dad was nearby and happened to be faster than this lady.  Yes she was arrested and hauled off, but not before all four local major news outlets arrived with cameras rolling.  (Do those people circle the city as they listen to police scanners or what?)  Fortunately, we had gotten such favor in the city by serving literally millions at that point, it would have bode poorly on the stations to send a negative story about us.  The lead story on all four stations was, roughly,

"Quick thinking nursery workers avert church kidnapping disaster.  Details at 11:00!" 

For several days, this was front and center in the local papers.  Police in uniforms with guns when present are often walking signs that read, "Don’t even think about it…" 

Invest In The Future
If good things are happening at your church, don’t gamble on what is very likely going to happen on the negative side with something negative.  Don’t go entirely dark with this, but there are many versions of the "Little foxes in the vineyard" you don’t want to deal with.  These are matters that can simply impede your forward progress. 

Last thought – don’t save a few dollars by settling for the half step of "Uh we have Bubba here almost always.  He can stop anyone…"  I’ve heard that time and again about someone or even several off duty cops.  Yet when I ask about various situations that have happened in the parking lot, dads who don’t have custody of a child but try to nab a child… the negative stories abound.  This is a classic example of "Save a dollar and lose a thousand dollars…" if not more (how much is your reputation worth in your city?).  Say it out loud, "We are getting uniformed, armed police present now." 

Minimally, implement this safety policy for 90 days.  Do a review with your leadership team.  Ask for responses regarding the "We feel safe" factor.  You will be surprised at what you learn.  Thank me later!