Within the past five days I’ve traveled throughout the U.S. (California, Mississippi and Georgia) and have gotten to talk with church and denominational leaders whose view and vision for the church are as wide apart in outlook as they are in geographical points on a map.
I sat with one denominational leader who has had major influence in denominational work in his state for the past several decades. I literally picked my chin up off the floor when he told me he still wasn’t sold on the whole “church planting” thing and thought we should spend more of our resources focusing on our existing small struggling churches rather than worrying about starting new ones. His gaze was focused inward (to use a metaphor from Luke 15:3-7) on the ninety-nine sheep rather than the one that was lost. I talked with various church leaders who said it was important to look in house first and take care of the home folks before reaching out. All too often I see churches and leaders gaze inward at the nine coins they have (Luke 15:8-10) rather than the one that’s lost.
And then I sat in the Drive Conference, hosted by Andy Stanley’s North Point Community Church, where he walked us through Luke 15 and reminded us of what I had just experienced: that the gravitational pull of the local church is towards the ninety-nine sheep, the nine coins, towards the older brother. If we’re not careful, our gaze will drift inward and we’ll focus only on the paying customers, the squeaky wheel, the ones who have our cell phone number. But if you go back and read Luke 15, you’ll realize that the whole point of the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost (or prodigal) son was to remind the audience that the gravitational pull of the Father is in the opposite direction. His eyes are on the road, looking to wayward children ready to come home.
These are two dichotomous views of the church. Are we content with the ninety-nine sheep we still have or do we search for the one that’s missing? Do we settle for nine coins or will we search for that which is lost? And when the wayward son comes home, will we have compassion on him and run towards him like the father, or will we judge and condemn from a distance? I saw both sides this past week, and I can tell you with certainty that the future of Christianity belongs to churches like North Point Community Church, because they reflect the heart of the Father. They’re eyes are fixed outward on the road.
This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about Andy Stanley. Here are some previous posts I’ve written about him: