Imagine you’re taking a walk in Africa and you stumble across a sleeping lion. He wakes up…mad. Your brain immediately activates a danger signal and scrambles to determine which of three possible responses will save you: fight, flight, or freeze. Hopefully, your brain chooses the right one!

You might be afraid to go on another walk in Africa after that, and your family and friends would probably agree that it’s safer for you to avoid putting yourself in danger again. You could choose comfort over courage, never walk in Africa, and never encounter a lion again.

Which is exactly why lions are a rare sighting in church. Wait… what?

Think about it—how many people in your church have stopped daring to encounter lions? Stopped daring to have discussions about the dangerous topics that nobody wants to talk about but are on everybody’s minds.

We encounter these lions every day—cultural, religious, scientific, relational, educational, economic, personal, and social—issues, experiences, and controversies. They’re the topics that elicit emotional responses and cause people to squirm in their church seats. People react in fear to them as they scramble to choose a response to escape the perceived danger of talking about that. You know, that lion that just entered the room.

Here’s how these protective responses to the fear of dangerous discussions are usually expressed:

Fight: people tend to argue, defend, judge, and attack

Flight: avoidance, pat answers, and quick exits

Freeze: shut down and numbing of emotional reactions

Some people get red-faced and ready to fight. Others turn and run away to the restroom. A portion freeze up and just stare at the scuff marks on their shoes.

Just start a conversation about a current controversial singer or movie star and watch the responses. Or raise the topic of abortion. Or homosexuality. Or share a personal story of addiction or of domestic or sexual abuse. Even expressing grief over losing a loved one can sometimes be a lion (a topic) people are afraid of.

What lions do you think people (or you) are afraid to bring to church?

Maybe they are some of these:

  • The teenager who is afraid to admit the cuts on her arms are not scratches from the cat, but how she numbs her feelings of inadequacy.
  • The ministry leader who fears rejection and judgment if they shared their confusion and thoughts about hot topics within the church (or about Scripture, or the pastor’s teaching…).
  • The smiling, always-serving 80-something-year-old woman who is afraid to tell anyone that she was a childhood victim of sexual abuse.

I met that fearful woman one day—on the day she became brave and realized that it was safe to reveal the lion she had brought with her to church. What happened next was not the fearful or dangerous discussion she anticipated all those years. As her church family surrounded her in love, you could almost see that ferocious lion shrink to the size of a harmless lion cub.

What was once fearful and dangerous turned harmless, because the people around her became courageous. They dared to get out of their comfort zones and surround her with loving and compassionate hearts and arms. They showed up, stayed in the discussion with her, and listened without judgment or fear.

That’s what courageous Christians do. They dare to keep showing up and face—instead of fear—the lions in the church. They don’t wait for the fear to go away because they know that courage can’t happen without the fear. And, most importantly, they’ve learned that fear, pain, and shame shrink in the midst of kindness, compassion, and love. Lions become lion cubs. Hurting and fearful hearts begin to heal.

Courageous Christians dare the dangerous discussions because they know that:

  • God is compassionate and kind and calls us to be the same. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
  • Perfect love never invokes fear but instead expels it. (1 John 4:18)

We can brave dangerous discussions when the church is a place where courage, not comfort, is modeled and embraced. A place where people are allowed to share without fear of judgment, to fail without the need of appearing perfect, and to question without fear of rejection. Courageous Christians don’t react with fight, flight, or freeze but expel their fear with their courage to express empathy, compassion, and love.

Will you dare the dangerous discussions? I triple dog dare you to go back to Africa. Take a walk. Start a discussion of the lions in your ministry. Ask the dangerous question: How can we value courage over comfort?

And the next time you encounter a lion? Keep calm and dare on!

Linda is a contributing author for Emergency Response Handbook for Women’s Ministry, a resource that helps women dare to engage in dangerous discussions with compassion, empathy, and love. She is a certified Daring Way™ facilitator candidate, and her personal courage quote is: “Be brave/live open-hearted/do it afraid/wear red shoes.”