Many years ago a story about a little lighthouse caused me to re-think church.
Although it’s original author is unknown, Brent Hunter’s classic telling of the Parable of a Lighthouse has been around awhile. Have you heard the tale?
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little life-saving 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 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 were trained. The little life-saving station grew.
Some of the new members of the life-saving 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 life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they re-decorated it beautifully and furnished it as a sort of club.
Less of the members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired life boat crews to do this work.
The mission of life-saving was still given lip-service but most were too busy or lacked the necessary commitment to take part in the life-saving activities personally.
About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people.
They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin, and 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 life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal pattern of the club.
But some members insisted that life-saving was their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving 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 own life-saving 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 life-saving station was founded.
If you visit the seacoast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but now most of the people drown.
This parable represents the life cycle of many churches. We begin with a passion to reach the hurting and the lost. Somehow, though, church turns into a place. And not just any place. It’s a place we feel must be protected and guarded. Attention subtly shifts from the mission to the building, from the people to the place.
Stewardship of our physical gifts is necessary. True. Peace and security are among God’s blessings, too.
However… our call to go to the nations requires leaving the mountain top prayer group, the reach of the shade tree, and the walls of the gilded temple. Safety is not promised. The first disciples, and many believers today, will confirm the inherent risk.
Could it be this comfort zone we call “church” is detracting from the mission of being Kingdom citizens? In some cases, sadly, yes. Nevertheless, our efforts to be God’s church in the world fulfills His plan to reach all who do not yet know Him. Flawed as we may be, we are the plan. We must adjust our path.
May we have ears to hear as the Lord inspires, corrects, guides, rebukes, and encourages so that we carry out the mandate to be His witnesses among all peoples in all places.
There is no place I would rather be.
Posted by Sharon R Hoover