Every congregation could profit from asking the question, “If our church were to disappear tomorrow, would anybody miss it?” If the only ones who would miss it are those on the inside, then there’s a problem. I recently heard a story that reminded me of the importance of keeping focus on our mission, lest we become irrelevant. Here is the story:
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 of themselves went out day and 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 area, wanted to become 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 trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club. Few members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do the work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held. About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleansed up before coming inside.
At the next meeting, there was a split in club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were stilled called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own 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. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!
May we never become like the lifesaving stations in this story. As His Church, Jesus Christ has commissioned us to make More & Better Disciples. That is our mission. It always has been and always will. We need to guard ourselves from becoming too comfortable with how God is working inside the church that we neglect our responsibility to rescue those outside the church. Let us be like our Savior who, upon bringing salvation to the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, exclaimed, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).