“I grew up in a church that never felt real. I became a pastor because I wanted to change that,” Elizabeth Hagan writes in the introduction to Brave Church. She describes the congregation of her childhood as a place where parishioners talked a lot about doctrine, church activities, outreach, and stewardship. But she never observed people in her church talking about real life—the bad things that happen as well as the good.
Hagan didn’t hear folks at church talk about what made them scared, frustrated, or ashamed. In their lives outside of church, people might have a family member in jail, feel lost in the depths of depression, or have suffered a miscarriage, but these were forbidden topics. “We lived by our 11th commandment: ‘Thou shalt be nice. And if you can’t be nice, just whisper,’” Hagan writes. And Hagan heard lots of whispers: when someone’s daughter checked herself into a treatment center after a relapse from her drug addiction. When her Sunday school teacher kept coming to church with bruises on her arms. When a teenager returned to youth group after being in a mental health facility for a month, and everyone acted like nothing had happened.
In today’s deeply divided world where discussions can quickly become heated and uncivil, churches need to learn the skills for having conversations about sensitive issues. Our society needs brave churches where people can talk about the real struggles they are experiencing—where they can be honest about their lives without fear of shame or judgment. People need their church to be a safe place to talk openly about their daily challenges and to know that others will listen and respond with loving hearts and open minds.
Brave Church will help congregations begin to talk about controversial topics with sensitivity to those who see the world and have experienced life differently from themselves. It will guide readers to think through how the church relates to infertility/miscarriage, mental health, domestic violence, racism, and sexuality. Each chapter begins with a scriptural meditation and prayer. Throughout the 6-week study, readers will follow “brave space rules” so they can learn how to stay in hard conversations with one another. Each topical chapter highlights churches and ministries who are bravely talking about tough topics. Each chapter concludes with questions for discussion and reflection. While it can be read alone, Brave Church is designed to be used as a small-group resource for those committed to meeting with one another for 6 weeks. For readers who want to keep talking about these difficult topics, the book suggests resources for further reading and action.