TFC has always been described as a "safe place." A place in which people who don't feel comfortable in more regular... churches feel welcomed as well as a place in which people who have never been involved in a church also feel safe and accepted. My leadership inadequacies would make a long list, but I'm glad that creating this type of safe and welcoming environment has been a leadership strength of mine.
In 2007, we really stretched our congregation's ability to continue to be a "safe place" by launching our Love Wins ministry to the local gentlemen's clubs. While we got some pushback from other churches (though we also received large amounts of financial support from surrounding churches as well), we received very little pushback from within our congregation. The only real pushback we received was from a group thinking we needed to go into the clubs and tell the ladies what sinners they are. While that approach does fit within the practice of many North American churches, it is 180 degrees removed from the approach Jesus modeled in the gospels. When faced with doing what most church people do and what Jesud did, we went with Jesus. That group eventually moved on from TFC.
But in the summer of 2009, we pushed the limits of this Jesus-like model of engaging "sinners." I use quotation marks because most church people define "sinners" as those who do sinful things that aren't like their sinful things or are worse than their sins - i.e. stripping in a club or engaging in same-sex eroticism. If the cover was pulled back from the lives of most church people, we'd see that they have as much sin as non-church people, they're just better at either excusing the sin or showing how their sin somehow isn't as bad. But I digress...
We pushed the limits of TFC's ability to be a "safe place" by expanding our Love Wins ministry from sharing the love of Jesus within strip clubs to also sharing the love of Jesus within the Lesbian / Gay community of downtown KC. We announced the begining of Love Wins: LGBT in August of 09 and within about one month, we began to experience the fallout of launching this ministry within TFC. Over the next year, 1/5 of the families within our congregation left TFC stating Love Wins: LGBT as either one of, or the main reason for, their leaving our church (or they told someone else and it eventually got back to me). Ironically, one church that a former TFC family believed would be "safe" from this type of ministry has now begun to partner with us in this endeavor.
I guess sharing Jesus' love with women stripping in clubs and men 'boucing' in those clubs, while a bit of a stretch, can be supported by church culture, but supporting a ministry that shares Jesus' love with people living a gay or lesbian lifestyle is just too much for people accustomed to the mindset of North American evangelicalism. A mindset that says that the sin of homosexual or lesbian activity is somehow worse than other sins or that our engagement with people practicing this sin needs to be approached differently than people practicing any other sin. I addressed some of this mindset in these two posts: Gutter I and Gutter II
So we've lost a lot of people, at least partly, as a result of a ministry, that according to my District Superintendent (who said he's tempted to resign his position so as to work directly with our ministry but knows he should stay in his role to "protect" us from people who would give us grief) is the only one of its kind among Nazarene churches in North America.
But you know who have come in to fill some of the openings left by people who chose to move on? Two groups of people: 1) those who helped launch Love Wins: LGBT in the first place and 2) people who live within the LGBT community of KC. Yes, you read that right. People who have been rejected by the church culture at large are meeting God for the first time or returning after decades away within the church community of TFC. I want to cry as I write those words...
If our church had developed the way I'd originally hoped and planned for us to develop, we never would've been in the place to launch a ministry like Love Wins: LGBT. If we were a larger church, I'd be more concerned with keeping church people happy so they'd continue to support the structure and financial obligations of a larger church. But the fact that we've shrunk so much over the two years has put us in a place in which we're free to take a crazy risk like sharing Jesus' love with the LGBT community. I almost feel like Gideon, who had to have his army shrunk exponentially to bring Gideon to the place of realizing that 1) it wasn't his army in the first place, 2) God moves his people around to the place they can best be used and 3) the victory is God's to be given, not ours to win.
But that's not all that is happening. The Love Wins: LGBT team has been invited to speak at the M-11 Conference, a national conference of the Church of the Nazarene. Their intent is to educate the broader church in how to relate to and share Jesus' love with the LGBT community. That conference is using the hot buzz-word of "mission" and Love Wins: LGBT is a wonderful example of the mission of Jesus being lived out. While many people within our denomination approach the LGBT community with judgmentalism and retreat from the community with an isolationistic approach (both of which are reactions born out of fear), the 'top dawgs' of the COTN are empowering us to live out this mission.
But that's not all that's happening... The amazing results of Love Wins: LGBT from this past year has prompted the Advisory Council of TFC to make what might be the biggest decision in the history of our church - a decision that was meant to be made at the very beginning but has been five long years in developing. But that's for another post...
From the people who have recently joined our church in worship to the chance to share at the M-11 Conference, the fruit of the Love Wins: LGBT ministry is so much greater than we'd ever imagined, we have nothing to do but admit it was God who brought all this about, not our amazing skillset. While the Advisory Council of 2009 did have to say "yes" and the Love Wins team had to overcome their fears to step into a foreign mission field, it was God who brought (and will continue to bring) the victory.
So maybe I can't really take credit for TFC being a "safe place." Maybe, just mabye, the same Jesus who was a walking "safe place" for those rejected by the religious culture of his day is the same Jesus making TFC a "safe place" for those rejected by the religious culture of our day.