risky business.

Last week, I  crossed another name off my lifetime concert bucketlist when I got to see Mutemath live for the first time. Lead singer Paul Meany is well-known for his on-stage antics, but he’s even better known for what he does off-stage. During the course of this packed-out show, Meany wandered through the crowd three different times, rubbing right up against fans in the pit. He also climbed several stationary objects, did a headstand on the piano and rode a crowd-surfing floating mattress.

It reminded me a little of the show Green Day put on at the VMA’s this year, where they played right in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by bouncers, but then allowed the crowd into their bubble, being body-to-body with their raucous fanbase. These bands, and Meany & Billy Jo Armstrong in particular, subjected themselves to risks many musicians and celebrities will not – face to face craziness of a mob.

Risk is a tricky thing. Often it’s really hard to figure out exactly what is at risk, but we can readily identify fear when it crops up in our minds – fear of failure, injury, disaster, etc.

But most times, the fear that we feel with risk is that of a different sort – a fear of the loss of safety.

Safety, it seems, is what many of us work towards our entire lives – having a safe home, living in a safe neighborhood, keeping kids safe from the streets, building up retirement accounts for safety in retirement, purchasing security systems, having 12 airbags, having a large enough savings account for it to function as a “safety net”. Sociologists talk about the need for safety being a major contributing factor to many families moving to the suburbs of cities during the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s & 90’s – even if that need was simply perception.

Churches talk safety all the time, too. My denomination even has a “Safe Church” program. And these things are fine – especially as they relate to children. But is safety really something that the Church or Christians should strive for?

Can safety become a wicked idol?

I think it can. A conscious or unconscious deification of safety is one of those things that motivates us to flee, motivates us to demonize things we don’t understand, motivates us to retreat to what we know – all in the opposite direction of mission. White flight, arms-length mission projects and over-sized bank accounts start as safety maneuvers but often end as albatrosses around our neck.

Obviously, this issue becomes a bigger one as you grow a family. Being without kids myself, I would be scared to risk my wife’s future by putting myself in a dangerous position in ministry, but I don’t have kids to worry about. I think that fear for wife and children is a big part of the reason Paul advocates staying single if at all possible.

And, frankly, I tend to think that valuing safety is close to if not the complete 180 of Jesus’ ministry (you do remember He died, right?). I’ve honestly done some really scary things in ministry – feared for my life a couple times – feared for my physical protection many more. But I tend to think that maybe, just maybe, as long as those aren’t idiot circumstances, that gives me a sliver of the kind of feeling Jesus felt in ministry. Maybe the reason the Church isn’t growing in the West isn’t because it’s not relevant but because it is way too safe for it’s own good. The real question is not how safe are you, it’s:

How unsafe are you willing to be?