“We dare not become a church…that is content to gather together and believe the right things and behave the right ways and stop there. Because if we do, we will find ourselves standing outside the very room that Jesus inhabits as he comes to call the sick and the sinners and those who need a savior.”
– Andy Stanley
“God blessed Abraham so that He could bless the world through him (see Gen. 12). If your church is not actively blessing the surrounding community, then you are ignoring God’s mission.”
– Multiply. Francis Chan & Mark Beuving
“There is no safety in Christ. There is absolutely security, but there is no safety.”
– Justin Welby - Archbishop of Canterbury
Why Playing It Safe Is the Most Dangerous Thing We Can Do
I don’t have great depths of experience whitewater rafting, but one of the key things I remember being taught in the orientation sessions is the importance of paddling through the rapids. Guides have to emphasize this because it is so counter-intuitive. They tell you well in advance so that your brain has time to process it. If you’re inexperienced like me and have a guide in the raft, she’s sure to remind you as you approach the first rapid. Once the excitement, adrenaline, and a tinge of fear kick in, your gut reaction is to try to slow down and control the pace. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do. The problem with slowing the raft down is that by trying to maintain control by fighting the current, you actually expose the raft to more danger. Trying to play it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do.
For a church that’s in decline, the tendency is to pull back in areas that are “non-essential,” which often means the ministry areas that spend the most time outside the walls of the church building. Core areas are those that meet the needs of the members, things like Sunday School, choir, facilities and maintenance, the organ or drum set. These are seen as the foundation which enable us to engage in the luxury of outreach ministries, efforts to connect with those outside our walls and faith community. So when times get tight, our gut reaction is to cut back on ministries that channel resources away from the “core” areas. We hope that by clutching tightly to those people or those dollars we can hang on and somehow get things turned around. And then, at some point in the future, we might be able to get back into the luxury of blessing those outside our fellowship.
The problem is that, just like the raft heading into the rapids, trying to play it safe is the most dangerous thing the Church can do.
Times of decline and struggle are times that we most need to reorient ourselves to our purpose and mission. Yet our natural reflex is to grab for safety, to try to hang on to the shore as long as we can rather than paddle faster through the rapids. We try to keep the lights on by hoarding what resources we have left while avoiding the question that’s so obvious to everyone outside our walls. What good is a well lit church building with no one inside?
What if instead of reallocating our resources in budget items that we know will give us at least some return on our investment, we followed Jesus’ advice to give and do for those who are unable to return the favor. Listen to his words in Luke 14:12-14
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
"Blow your money on people who can never repay you," Jesus says. How crazy…how counter-intuitive…how exactly like what God did for us in Christ.
The danger in hoarding our resources when times get tough isn’t that we will start to look irrelevant to the world around us. It’s that may we become irrelevant to the mission of the Kingdom. If Jesus defines his mission by sending people out to serve, heal, preach, and give to those who can’t repay, what does it say about us if we become a community focused on our own comfort and religious activities within the security of our own walls. But when we act like a community of faith known for its generosity and desire to be the hands and feet of Jesus to people who could never repay us, we become the kind of gospel-centered people that others want to be around.
I’ve never heard of a church that had to shut its doors because it was too generous or reached out to too many people who couldn’t give anything back, but I think I’d like to be a part of one some day.
“Attractional church demands that in order to hear the gospel, people come to us, on our turf, and in our cultural zone. In effect, they must become one of us if they want to follow Christ. I can’t emphasize how deeply alienating this is for most non-Christian people who are generally happy to explore Jesus but don’t particularly want to be “churched” in the process. The biblical mode, on the other hand, is not so much to bring people to church but to take Jesus (and the church) to the people.”
– Alan Hirsch - The Forgotten Ways
“What began as simple obedience to the call of Jesus ended up changing their lives, and ultimately, the world.”
– Francis Chan & Mark Beuving. “Multiply.”
“Mission drift occurs as a church is established and new ministries are formed that serve the needs within the congregation… they are more about keeping churched people comfortable than about reaching out…many churches have not only experienced mission drift but have redefined their mission according to where they have drifted.”
– Viral Churches - Ed Stetzer
“His plan of redemption will not be completed if we are satisfied with those who are already on the inside. An inwardly focused church is an unhealthy church. It is a dying church.”
– Multiply - Francis Chan and Mark Beuving
“Because a church plant does not know it has any limit on what it can do for God’s kingdom. It is free from the baggage of past traditions, practices, and the “we’ve never done that before” mentality that plagues churches that have been around for awhile.”
– Viral Churches - Ed Stetzer
“O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
– Psalm 63:1