How Mark Buchanan has written six books before Your Church Is too Safe (2012, Zondervan) and I have not read any of them is a mystery to me. Buchanan is a Pastor (New Life Community Baptist Church, Duncan, British Columbia, Canada) first—and that fact shines through. These are not the words of an academic in an ivory tower; they are the heart-cry of a shepherd of God’s flock.
Buchanan has one purpose for this book: He wants the church to reflect the Kingdom. He simply wants Christians to be Christians. That is all. Allow me to share a passage from the very beginning of the book. I apologize in advance for the length of the quote.
"Should the church be relevant to the world?
"We’ve spilled a lot of ink over that question. We’ve exchanged many words, both exhotatory and accusatory, trying to resolve it. It vexes us sorely. There are those who decry the church’s stodginess, its veneration of old wineskins, its adherence to outmoded cultural forms. They seek a church that nimbly adapts to the world’s music and dress and causes. And there are those who lament the church’s trendiness, its fetish for new wineskins, its pursuit of faddish cultural novelties. They seek a church gloriously indifferent to the world’s latest fashions.
"We tote out Jesus’ warning to be in the world but not of it, but then have endless and exhausting debates about what constitutes which. We have those who think the kingdom’s come because we’ve preserved ancient songs and starchy vestments and Latin-strewn liturgies, and we have those who think it’s come because we smoke Cuban cigars and drink Belgian beer and treat Starbucks as sacred space. If I wear torn jeans and a ratty T-shirt to church, am I of the world or in it? If our church worships to hip-hop music, which preposition are we falling under, in or of? If our liturgy hasn’t changed since 1633 or 1952, or 1979, is that because we refuse to be of this world, or because we’re failing to be in it?
"And now I will resolve the matter for all time.
"It doesn’t matter. The kingdom is not about any of this. The kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking or music styles or how up-to-date or out-of-date we are.
"The kingdom of God is a republic of love. Not the sentimental or sensual thing the world calls love but the 1 Corinthians 13 kind; fierce, wild, huge, feisty, pure. The unbounded extravagance at the heart of the heart of God. This love is the song God sings over us, and calls us to sing loudly. What makes the church both a mystery and a magnet to the world is when we love in this way, God’s way."
Some of you may be thinking this is just another book about how if we would just be more loving (meaning accepting of wrong or sin) the church would be a place that is “safe” for unbelievers—and weak, immature believers—to feel comfortable. You could not be further from the truth. Buchanan is not afraid to point out wrong actions, attitudes, and behaviors. But Christians of every theological stripe ought to be able to agree that all we are in Christ, indeed our very existence and salvation, is due first and foremost to God’s extravagant love for us. If you have any questions about this, I refer you to John 3:16.
So Buchanan wants the church to look more like the Kingdom. Who doesn’t! Be warned: if you are looking for a how-to book, you will likely be disappointed. There are no “5 Steps to Loving the World” or “8 Keys to Being More Like Jesus”. That is because reflecting the Kingdom, discipleship, is not a simple, clean, step-by-step process. It is ministry, and like a good friend of mine says, “Ministry is messy.”
What Buchanan does offer is a number of biblical principles and a collection of stories from his own experience in the church he has the privilege to pastor. It is enough. Your Church Is too Safe is an incredibly encouraging look at the journey of the church becoming more like the bride of Christ she already is.
If that were all I had to say about this book, it would be enough; but I want to add one more thing. It is a very well-written book. Mark Buchanan is a really good writer. His prose is so vivid and picturesque. The book was a joy to read.
This is a book I would unreservedly recommend for any pastor or church leader. Additionally, most any church member would benefit from it.