Here is a question that has been bothering me a lot lately; there seems to be a new church plant in every theater and school in many towns, so do we really need more new churches? As I was reading the second chapter of Mark yesterday about Jesus’ calling Levi to be his disciple, a couple of things jumped out at me that I think apply to this question. Read the paragraphs below and then I’ll share my thoughts:
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him. Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)
But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
The first thing that jumped out is that Jesus’ followers included many “disreputable sinners.” Jesus didn’t just hang out with sinners; he hung out with disreputable sinners. And he didn’t just hang out with them; they followed him. Jesus’ church (gathering) was made up for the most part of people we don’t normally associate with elders and deacons. If we want a church that looks like Jesus’ church then we need to focus on gathering scum. I know this isn’t new or revolutionary, but it does seem to fly in the face of the “fly with the eagles” mindset.
So how do we gather scum when we are growing a church? This is the second thing that stood out to me in this passage—Jesus said, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Jesus focused on those who already knew they needed a Savior.
This points to a couple of mistakes we often make in the church. First we focus on meeting the needs of the already convinced. We create programs and ministries that soften the cocoon of faith so that everyone is as comfortable as possible. Eventually the cocoon can become all that matters and we lose contact with scum like the sinners that followed Jesus. When talking to the already convinced Jesus said things like “let the dead bury the dead,” “go and sell everything you have” and “take up your cross.” Imagine trying to recruit leaders for those ministries.
A second and less obvious mistake we make is spending a lot of energy trying to convince people that they are sinners. While Jesus never shied away from pointing out sin in the lives of the self-righteous, he didn’t waste time hammering the point until they agreed with him. He focused on those who knew they were headed down a dead end street. Jesus didn’t have to point out to the woman caught in adultery that sleeping around wasn’t God’s will for her life. He didn’t give Zacheus a lecture on Christian business ethics. The Holy Spirit was already at work in these people’s lives and they responded readily to Jesus’ message of forgivness and healing.
According to this passage in Mark the key to growing a church like Jesus’ church is to ignore the self-righteous and to offer forgiveness and healing to the disreputable sinners. The good news is that while there are already plenty of churches who cater to those who think they are righteous, the market is wide open for churches who cater to the scum.
Do we need another cocoon for the already convinced? No. Do we need hundreds and hundreds more rescue missions for the lost and dying? Absolutely.