This past Sunday in my "sermon is a sack" time with the younger kids my goal was to help them appreciate how much God loves and seeks those who are lost. I asked the group gathered on the steps of the stage if they understood what it meant when the Bible referred to a person as lost, or when we sang songs that referred to being lost. A seven-year-old girl spoke up and said, "Those are people who are running from God." My heart leaped. Perfect.
We know the right answer, but we also know if we are honest, that we have a tendency to make church about everything but seeking the lost. We get preoccupied with either matters of corporate institutionalization or individual consumerism.
It seems that as a church progresses over a longer period of time, it will turn inward toward maintaining the status quo and preserving the institution. Programs that have existed for a long time become ends unto themselves, and the goal is simply to keep the organization afloat and financially solvent. And as long as this is achieved we believe that the church is healthy, even if none of it truly involves any real effectiveness in reaching the lost. This is when the deacons or elders along with the pastors fall into seeing their role as managing the institution instead of leading people to be on mission.
On the individual level, people have come overwhelmingly to see a church as something that serves them. They want their church to be a good, comfortable fit for them and their family. They size up its amenities (the preaching, the music, the children and youth programs, the facilities, the small group experiences, the kind of people who go there, etc.), deciding if the church serves them well. And we have bought into this. We become preoccupied with making people happy. We should strive for excellent worship and great discipleship opportunities, but we shouldn't be doing what we do to sell people on our church. But let's be honest, that's exactly how we are thinking about it much of the time.
The biblical truth is that God wants us to go and seek the lost as our primary passion. Our joy should be to put lost people at the top of our priorities. This was the passion Jesus expressed to his disciples after conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well. The soul satisfaction of doing the Father's will in seeking the lost and revealing himself was his spiritual food. He told his disciples to lift up their eyes and look at the harvest already ripe. He pushed them out of their comfort zone and instilled in them a sense of urgency in regards to the lost.
We must stop exhausting ourselves running after disgruntled or absentee church members, and use that energy to go after the lost and unchurched no matter who they are in our community.
Jesus told a parable of one who invited certain people to a big dinner. All those he originally invited gave some lame excuses of why they couldn't come when the time approached. The man (representing God) grew angry at their response and instructed his servant to go out and invite the unexpected ones - "the poor, crippled, blind and lame." He would waste no more time on those who had been invited and refused. There were always others who would respond.
We need to get over people who are chronically unfaithful and uninvolved. We need to stop strategizing how to get them back. We need to care for these folks as well, but at some point we need to cut them loose and go invite others. The lost are all around us. They need to always be our first and greatest passion.
If the lost are running from God - and they are - then we have to be running in the same direction after them. We have to overtake them and confront them with the grace of the Gospel. We know that they will not all come when invited, but we are promised that some will. God calls the church to go after the lost. Jesus did this and taught us that this should be our passion too. If the church is truly going to be the church, then we are going to have to get a whole lot more comfortable with being uncomfortable. We must allow God to break our hearts for the lost, and trust God to use us to bring the same Good News that came to us to others who don’t know yet that they even need it.