Christ’s Vision for Christ’s Church
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7
More rejoicing in heaven over the one than the 99! Could it be that heaven has a priority system that differs from our own? After all, most of what we do is for the 99. Most of our hours, most of our staffing, most of our budget ensures that the 99 are well fed and comfortable. This could be the most significant 1 percent (ers) problem ever. But this one percent doesn’t have it all. In fact, without Jesus, they have nothing.
Let’s go back to the parable. The religious people were upset that Jesus was spending his time with the “sinners.” Of course it was the sinners who were more hungry for Christ’s message. Nevertheless, the grumbling was growing louder. How could anyone who claimed to follow God associate with those so vile? So Jesus answered those who criticized with 3 stories: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. It was his attempt to help “God’s people” understand God’s priorities. And in this case, the lost sheep represented the unbeliever…the person who had wandered into the wilderness of the world.
The sheep was lost because the attractiveness of the world was appealing. It was lost because it was aimless, because it had refused to heed the warnings of the shepherd, because it had not formed a bond with the sheep in the fold, and because it did not trust the shepherd. And so the good shepherd sought that sheep until it was found. His search was urgent: it was his greatest priority.
So what changed? What happened to the shepherd spirit within the church? Why has the prime directive of the church become essentially irrelevant? Those who study the trends in the church now tell us that the church is stable…stable in that we are maintaining about the same number of adherents that we have over the past years: about 20% of the population. But the Christmas and Easter crowd has departed and the cultural Christian crowd is moving steadily into the group that claims no connection to God. That means that church growth today is defined by enticing the sheep from another fold to enter into your own. The church has become a safe haven and fewer and fewer shepherds are willing to take the risk of stepping outside the walls, entering into the wilderness, and seeking the lost. Let’s face it, it’s dangerous out there and few are truly equipped for the adventure. So instead, we try to out-program one another and put on a better show so that his sheep can become my sheep.
But rather than be discouraged, I see this as big opportunity for our church and our community. And I hear God calling us: “Find my lost sheep.” I hear God saying, “We’ve been missing the parties up here.”
A long time ago, Jesus told his followers how people would recognize us. He said in John 13:35, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” A little while after that, Jesus invited his followers to join him on a mission. He said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So, if love is how people identify us, and connecting people to God is our mission, then our vision is clear...we exist to seek and save the lost.