Years ago I ran across this parable, and it had an enormous impact on my ministry.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once
a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and
there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant
watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went
out day or night tirelessly searching for the lost.
Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station so that it
became famous. Some of those who were saved, and various others in
the surrounding areas, wanted to get associated with the station
and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its
work. New boats were bought, and new crews were trained. The little
lifesaving station grew.
Some of the new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that
the building was so crude and so poorly equipped. They felt that a
more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of
those saved from the sea.
They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture
in an enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular
gathering place for its members, and they redecorated it beautifully
and furnished it as a sort of club.
Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on
lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.
The mission of lifesaving was still given lip-service, but most were
too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the
lifesaving activities personally.
About, this time, a large ship was wrecked off the coast and the
hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet and half-drowned
They were dirty and sick; some had skin of a different color, some
spoke a strange language, and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up. So the property committee immediately had a
shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could
be cleaned up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most
of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as
being unpleasant and a hindrance to the regular pattern of the organization.
But some members insisted that lifesaving was their primary purpose
and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station.
But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to
save the life of all various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in
those waters, they could begin their lifesaving station down the
coast. They did.
As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes
that had occurred in the old. They evolved into a club, and yet
another lifesaving station was founded.
If you visit the seacoast today, you will find some exclusive
clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those
waters, but now most of the people drown! — Taken from Personal Evangelism 101, by Brent Hunter
This illustration identifies a troubling trend in far too many congregations. Congregations find themselves often lost and searching for the answers to become relevant again. The decline is slow. At first, people don’t seem to notice that the mission focus has changed. The members just ease into a ministry pattern of complacency. In the beginning, there was high energy and motivation. Members came to gatherings full of fresh ideas to reach their community. No idea seemed implausible or impossible. After years of struggling to find a permanent home this new fledgling community settles in on the place, you will call home. You start the building project with a groundbreaking ceremony, and you are off and running.
You start the building project with a groundbreaking ceremony, and you are off and running. After about a year and cost overruns the building is in place. Now due to the mortgage, the ministry is saddled with, the focus changes to maintaining the building that once brought so a sense of achievement. You have accomplished your goal but at what cost? Did the mission get left behind?
As you look at other churches who are growing in attendance, and you wonder if they have somehow watered down the message. Does it have to be an either/or? Can’t the church, guard its doctrine and practice while at the same time keeping its eyes focused on those who are outside of God’s grace? Continue to reach out to those who may speak a different language, have a different skin color? An important fact about mission work is that it gets messy. The people who come to our churches outside of God’s grace are messy. Their lives are messy. Their past baggage and past experiences are messy.
Someone once told me the church should be a hospital for sick souls. We should consider reorganizing our church meetings. What if we devoted as much time to planning and caring for those outside of God’s grace, you know those messy ones as we care for the sheep that pay the bills. It is a delicate balance. But that is the great command of Jesus along with the great charge. The great command is: “Go and Make Disciples.” The great charge is “Feed my sheep.” It is not an either/or but a both/and.
In the Modern Revival of Christian Faith, Georgia Harkness said, “The cross is God’s way of uniting suffering and love.”
In your monthly leadership meetings try to discern where God is working in your community and how you can keep messy hurting people in the monthly agenda of your church meetings. Below are some questions to get holy brainstorming going on the opportunities God has placed at your doorstep.
What do they value?
Where do they find community? Where is their lifesaving station?
What gives them joy?
What challenges do they face?
What do they fear?
Where are, they hurt?
What can we do as a body of believers to address their pain and show them mercy?
What ministries do have budgeted already that could be a place to invite those not a part of our tribe too? And once they are there how to we remain connected to them?
It is important to remember all people are valuable to God, “However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!” Ephesians 2:4-5