Reposted from April 2011. -JB
In my experience, the church has tended to adopt a “come to us” posture toward a lost and hurting world. We prefer the “light house” image of church where the church is a sanctuary that houses the light of the gospel. Our mission then becomes inviting others to “come to church” to encounter the light. There is nothing wrong with this approach….but is it the most biblical image? Is is the most effective approach to reaching people in our culture?
For both biblical and cultural reasons, I believe the church in post-Christian America needs to exchange the “light house” image for the image of a rescue boat. Jesus invites us “into the boat” (Mk 4:35) to become “fishers of men” (Matt 4:19) to “go out and make disciples” (Matt 28) by engaging lost people “in the marketplace daily” (Acts 17:17). In a culture that is receptive to spirituality and Jesus, but largely disinterested or even turned off by “church”, we cannot wait for lost people to come to the church. The church — Jesus’ followers — must go to them.
I was reading a well-known statement of Jesus this week that took on fresh meaning as I read in light of these observations above and the vision of MainStreet Covenant Church we’re forming in Mound, MN. In Matt 5:14-16 Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
In light of my observations above about the church exchanging a “come to us” approach to a “go out” approach, Jesus’ words seem to offer a similar challenge to the church today. I offer the following insights/challenges from Jesus’ words words:
1. Our lives are meant to shine the light of the gospel to folks still in darkness. We are to “put it on a stand” to give light to as many people as possible.
2. The people still in darkness, the places where our light needs to shine brightest are not typically found inside the church building on a Sunday morning — though some certainly are.
3. The majority of our church’s activity still takes place within church buildings — Sunday worship, midweek programs, Bible Studies, etc. There were no such ‘church buildings’ for nearly the first 200 years of the rapid spread of Christianity!
4. I believe the particular bowl Christians in America are in danger of hiding our light under most often is the church building. The four walls and steepled roof are too often preventing our light from shining out into the everyday spaces where people most need to encounter it!
So, what do you think? Are we keeping God’s light hidden under the bowl of busy church programs and ministries that we don’t have time left in our lives to let our light shine outside the walls of the church — in our neighborhood, our neighbors house, our workplace, our families, our athletic club, our local library, our schools, the local coffeeshop?
I leave you to consider a story Jesus once told that touches on this “going-out” in order to “invite them in” posture of discipleship:
“A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’ “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”
It’s hard to be in the streets and alleys, or the country lanes and behind the hedges when we’re all singing songs and listening to sermons inside the church. Now, I love worship songs and listening to sermons each week — and believe we should gather weekly to do so. But far too many of us stop there. If you’d like to join a church committed to also bringing the light into the streets and alleys, join us at MainStreet Covenant Church!