Comfort, on its own is not a bad thing. Humans like comfort. And for good reasons. The alternative, pain, is just unpleasant. But I think it’s much more complicated than that. Like most things, too much of a good thing can turn out to be not so good. That’s true of comfort as well. We can comfort our way to death. When comfort becomes our overriding agenda and motive, we can lose sight of important things. Comfort isn’t a bad thing, but it’s certainly not a good goal. Things that are worth while are done by putting comfort on the side.
Comfort is good for when we need a break sometimes. Other times it can cause us more harm because we become slack and lost momentum. Comfort can give us an emotional boost. And it can be a crutch that distracts us from reality.
In some ways comfort is killing us – our planet, our churches, our economy, etc. We can be so comfortable that we push away pain which is warning us of worse things. Pain is a form of communication that gives us vital information about the health of our bodies and organizations. Ignore or cover up the pain and things are likely to get worse. But we can’t improve them until we engage in the pain and listen to what it has to say to us.
Comfort in church is great when we have a loss of a loved one. It’s not healthy though when we use it to shield us from needed changes. Transformation isn’t comfortable, but it is life giving. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Too often we like to generalize this and think that we all are afflicted and need comforting when in reality it is more likely that we are comfortable and need to be afflicted in our churches.
In Revelation, as in other parts of Scripture, the Good Book is rather harsh on those who hold onto lukewarm faith – a faith that is claimed, but with no follow-up. Lukewarm faith is interested in comfort, not discipleship. When we are lukewarm in our faith, we compartmentalize faith. We do that because if we integrated faith throughout our life, it would put us in discomfort, transforming us, showing us the brokenness around us and spurring us to action.
If comfort is the most important thing for a church, then I don’t see how it can last. There is no history in the church in which a comfortable church is sustainable. There is no time in history when a comfortable church stood up for those without a voice and spoke and risked it all. There is no time in history when a comfortable church grew in terms of faith, service, discipleship, etc. Maybe in terms of number of spectators at worship, but that would be it. But a comfortable church is just that – only interested in comfort. It avoids conflict in unhealthy ways. It ignores the pains and brokenness around it and in it. It deflects away from necessary conversations. It is addicted to a nostalgia that never really existed. It doesn’t look forward to the best days that are yet to come.
A comfortable church is a church that is already dead. It’s only a matter of time until the doors close. How sad. Comfort, when it becomes our most important value, holds us in captivity. Comfortable churches won’t talk about racism or sexism. Comfortable churches won’t look outward, but rather stay focused internally. Comfortable churches aren’t interested in growing in faith, but rather focus on having all the answers and silencing anyone who disagrees (conflict is discomforting after all – and the only way to have comfort is with conformity to the most forceful voice).
Church are not called to be comfortable in this way. They are called to be comforting – especially to those who are afflicted.
Churches are called to face reality. This is not the time for a church to become comfortable. The times are not comfortable. They are chaotic and uncertain. This is not the time to scale back from discipleship and service. It’s not the time to play it safe. It’s not the time to retreat inwardly.
This is a time to move forward boldly. To risk it all. To be all in. To be the church, not just a building. Why? Because God is all in for us. We see this especially in times of great difficulty. God was all in with the Israelites freeing them from Egypt and being with them in the wilderness. God was all in with the Israelites as they came into the promised land. God was all in with the Judges who ruled over Israel. God was all in with prophets sent to give hope to people who were in exile. Jesus was all in through this ministry to the point of death. Followers of Jesus have been all in for centuries, to the point of putting their lives on the line. We go all in because God is all in and always has been. That’s what the crucifixion is all about – being all in.
But being all in does not mean that we force our will on others, that we mandate compliance, and ways of living. That’s not consistent with what God has been about. The use of force is inconsistent with Christianity and what it means to follow Jesus.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a states:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
God is love and what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth isn’t just about love, but the very nature of God. It is the nature of the one we follow. No where in that description is the use of force endorsed. Christianity only works and works really well when it is invitational and people willingly come onboard to this radical way of life.
Comfortable churches don’t invite people to anything. They expect others to come and become just like them. To be transformed to become like the rest of the church. But that’s not how transformation works. Transformation is the very essence of life, death, and resurrection. And that is what we are inviting people to – something not comfortable because life isn’t comfortable. It is real though. It is inspiring. Transformation changes us in amazing ways. But it is not comfortable. It is not comfortable to have parts of your life die off. But resurrection can’t happen unless we willingly go through death.
A church that is transformational is one in which it is being transformed, changed, going through life, death, and resurrection in order to proclaim Good News to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. The invitation isn’t to a building or an institution. It’s to a relationship, a community, to discipleship, to service, to a vision. It is invitation to life – with all of its brokenness and pain, but life with others and with God. When that is our focus the institution of church becomes the support that we can tap into to do ministry, that we can comfort the afflicted, that we can grow in faith.
Comfort isn’t a bad thing. But it isn’t the most important thing either. Faith is. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and justice, not comfort. In the process you’ll get the comfort you need, along with the affliction that you need to. Because it’s really ultimately about moving towards God’s embrace.