How a congregation lives in community determines church health. In this study and three more online, we present insights gained from the study of the social sciences as resources to the truths presented in Scripture.
When the psalmist counsels us to trust in the Lord rather than in humans or princes (Psalm 118:8–9), the author is noting that humanity is not always safe. As humans raised in imperfect families and immersed in a broken world, we often bring unsafe behaviors into the church. The harm we cause to others and experience ourselves brings both subtle and obvious dishonor to Christ and hampers the Spirit’s sanctifying work.
In the book “Memory and Abuse,” physician and psychotherapist Charles Whitfield identifies a graduated scale of safe and unsafe behaviors. Specific safe behaviors increase in safety from listening to understanding to accepting to being loyal to ultimately loving unconditionally.
Conversely, unsafe behaviors decline from not listening to not accepting to unhealthy teasing to neglecting to rejecting to attacking. To increase the safety of any community, people engage in more safe behaviors and work to eliminate unsafe behaviors.
In healthy churches, leaders create an environment where safe behaviors are practiced and reinforced while unsafe behaviors are addressed and removed. This commitment permeates the community so that each individual is treated with respect as a person made in God’s image so he or she can begin to experience God’s love.
Denny Wayman is the lead superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California and the senior pastor of the FMC of Santa Barbara. Cheryl Wayman is a licensed therapist and the director of counseling ministries at the FMC of Santa Barbara.
GROUP DISCUSSION: What safe and unsafe behaviors are present in churches?  How can you practice safe behaviors and remove harmful behaviors?  Will you commit to pray for the Holy Spirit’s insight, motivation and power to change?