A Parable

I heard a parable some years ago that helps us to reflect on the life of our congregations and all of our ministries. Are our churches and hospitals and schools and social service agencies for the people who are members or are they for the members and for people who need to hear the gospel and to know they are loved by God because they know who Jesus is?  Here is the parable.

There was a rocky coastline where there were many shipwrecks. The people who lived on the shore knew how dangerous it was along their coast. A lighthouse was there to warn sailors away, but sometimes the sailors were foolish and sometimes there were storms that smashed the ships of even the wisest and most experienced sailors against the rocks, destroying their ships. People needed to be rescued.

The people on the shore decided that they would form a life-saving society. They bought small boats that could be rowed out even in the harshest conditions. They trained to row out and to meet the needs of those whom they had saved. They had a plan for how they would help those who were saved to get back on their feet.

All of this training brought the life savers together. They enjoyed one another’s company. They needed a place to meet so they built a clubhouse for themselves. They started to plan regular meetings. They had parties together. They had potluck suppers. The clubhouse needed new curtains and a new floor and it got to be too small so they expanded it. Their regular calendar of events was full. For a while, they still dropped everything and rowed out to sea whenever they saw a ship in trouble. But then it became too much to fit into the schedule of their own training and their parties and their potluck suppers.

Shipwrecks still occurred. People still needed to be saved. But the life savers had become a club and they could not set aside their Tuesday night card tournament or their Sunday morning gathering or their Friday night potluck to row out to sea. If shipwrecks happened at a convenient time and in a convenient place, they still tried to get out to sea. But as the years passed, the row boats first sat idle and then were put in a museum to remind the lifesaving club of what they had once been.

What did the founders of your church hope to accomplish by starting a church in your neighborhood? What did your non-profit set out to do? Is that original vision still at the heart of your work? Has it evolved into a new vision that still brings the good news into people’s lives? Or has it become a club, more focused on the needs of its members than in bringing hope in the name of Jesus?