I just finished reading Mark Buchanan’s new book Your Church is Too Safe. My view of the book is different from when it first came in the mail from Zondervan for me to review. When I first received the book I liked the cover, thought the concept was catchy but honestly figured that this would be a book that I would skim, gather a few nuggets and move on with life and ministry. If I’m being honest, this is what most books written to challenge and reinvigorate the church end up doing in my life. I learn a principle or two, I appreciate them, I assimilate some of the thoughts into my life and ministry, and then I move on. That is what I expected to get in Buchanan’s new book.
Sitting here on the other side of Your Church is Too Safe I must confess that the Lord is using it to really shake me up to the core. It’s something the Lord has been doing for awhile but something about this book served as a dagger to rip open my heart. And I think that is what Mark wanted to do. He wants pastors and church folk like me to read this book, be torn to shreads, and then stare over our congregation and community and ask—“what the heck am I supposed to do now”? You won’t find a cookie-cutter answer in this book. But I think you’ll find Jesus and that’s enough.
For those that have read a good amount of these type of books the first few chapters may not be anything all that new—at least they weren’t for me. They are good reminders that we are called as believers to love and reflect the love of Christ. We are called to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the communities that God has entrusted us with. I was in basic agreement but nothing really slapped me across the face.
Then I read what may be the nerdiest chapter in the book: Going to Mordor. The whole thing is an analogy using Lord of the Rings to show the difference between fellowship in the midst of battle and fellowship outside the battlefield. It’s different and meaning fellowship really only happens in the midst of battle. Something about this chapter sparked that part of my heart that God has been kicking around for a few months. From this point forward I was hooked. Some chapters are better than the others but all of them use Scripture to remind believers that church (living out the Christian life with other believers) is not meant to be safe. It’s messy. It’s dirty. And this is the way of the master.
Buchanan is a really good writer. He masterfully weaves biblical stories, personal stories and anecdotes, along with compelling and convicting truths. As I read through this I wanted to pull out my Bible and try to argue with some of the things he was saying. Truth is I wanted to be comfortable. I don’t like to think that about myself but God has used this book alongside a few other things in my life to expose this idol of comfort and safety. I want to talk missions and outreach and Christ-centeredness but I want it to be nice and neat.
Buchanan is biblical. And that’s partly what makes this book frustrating where others fail. Many of the other books in this ilk have weak theology attached to them. They keep me safe, because I can disagree with the theology, point out their Swiss-cheese biblical interpretation, and then throw out the whole book. Buchanan’s book doesn’t really let me do that. I want to try to argue with him but the Spirit within convicts my heart that I’m just trying to hide from what Jesus is really asking of my life.
There is much in this book that leaves me unsettled. There is much that leaves me asking “what does this mean for ______?” What does a church do when you have limited resources and people that it seems genuinely do not want help but just want to milk your church continue asking for help? What do you do when you’ve counseled somebody hundreds of times and it seems like they just want “counsel” for some reason other than actual life change? I wish Buchanan would have answered some of these questions, but at the end of the day I’m glad he didn’t. I’m glad because I know myself. I would have tried plugging in a formula. Where it stands now I’m just left to pour over Scripture, pray, and get to know more deeply the heart of Jesus. That’s a better place. I can’t help pastor a church that’s not too safe without the Master guiding our steps, and that’s a good place to be.
Should You Buy It?
If you want to stay safe and comfortable I would stay away from this book. It’s kind of like David Platt’s Radical but there is something about this book that brings about a different experience. I loved Platt’s Radical and I also found this book very helpful. If we are honest all of our churches are too safe. You may not rush to the store to buy this book because few people like to be made uncomfortable, but I really think it is needed and you should certainly try to get your hands on this book.
Also feel free to check out some of the other reviews that are part of the Engaging Church: Your Church is Too Safe blog tour.