Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Luke 5: Ministry is for the Unchurched

Luke 5:1-11 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. 

Luke 5:27-32 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me."  And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." 

In these two passages quoted above, we see Peter and Levi (Matthew) allowing Jesus to use their boat and house as platforms for Jesus' ministry to the seekers and the sinners. Jesus made it very clear that his mission and ministry is directed towards the unchurched: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). And this cannot take place inside the four walls of the church because the church is a congregation of believers, not unbelievers.

I attended last Sunday the inaugural service of a new Baptist church-plant called the "Fifth Wall Community". I was curious why they called themselves the Fifth Wall Community. The President explained that traditional churches have four walls and these four walls kept the church from the community of the unchurched. The Fifth Wall Community church has no four walls to shut them in but only a fifth wall--it is a church without walls and its purpose is to serve the community. I was challenged by that vision, but I was curious as to how this is going to work out in real life. Their first meeting will be held in Toa Payoh this Saturday afternoon and I'm going to drop in to see how it's different from the traditional Sunday church with four walls keeping congregation from the community. But the vision is correct--the church should not have four walls that keep believers in, but in fact should have no wall at all--otherwise, how can a church be the platform for Jesus' mission and ministry to sinners, rather than to the righteous?

In these two examples, the platforms for Jesus' ministry was not a physical central weekend "church" but weekday community entities of businesses and homes. Peter's boat was his "office" and Jesus asked to borrow it to minister to the crowds. Levi's house was where his tax-collecting friends gathered and so became Jesus' platform for ministry to the sinners that came. This is not to dispense with the weekend gathering: but every gathering is for ministry to sinners and to the community. The "customers" of the church are not the congregation: Churches ought to be like restaurants where members are service staff waiting upon the real unchurched "customers" who are the reason restaurants exist. The pastors and staff are there to minister to the unchurched and members are there as helpers to serve the pre-believing customers.

Unfortunately, that's not how a typical "pastoral" church works: the pastoral staff are the waiters and waitresses and the congregation of the saints are the customers waiting to be served and entertained. Where are the sinners who are object of Jesus' mission and ministry? Where are the customers of the church? A business without customers will soon die. All businesses are anxious about getting customers for their existence depends on getting customers. So does the church. And our "customers" are outsiders and the reason why the church exists. But how many churches do we know that are organized and gathered to serve the unchurched?

So very often, the real ministry of Jesus has to be done outside the weekend walled-in church: it has to take place in the offices and in the homes for that is where the unchurched and unbelievers are found. Peter's boat was his business and he surrendered control of his boat to Jesus to use as a platform for His ministry to the unchurched. As a result, Peter's business prospered--he had the greatest catch of fish ever in his lifetime! Levi opened his home for his tax-collector colleagues to come for a feast (sounds like Alpha) and invited Jesus as the Guest of Honour. Jesus did not just "preach" at the sinners. He sat down and ate with them. This offended the religious people (Pharisees and scribes) who felt that good people should not mix with bad people.

But the religious people missed the whole point of the Gospel--it is for bad people who are still in captivity to Satan, to sin and to sicknesses. These people are the reason for whom Christ came and died. And those of us who are already inside Christ's Kingdom are now enlisted to join His army of ministers of the Gospel to the unchurched. The real customers of the church are not the members who paid their dues (tithes) but the non-members. Every church should be like Levi's home: the hosts are the believers and the guests are not the non-believers--every act of service of hospitality is done for the guests, not for the hosts.

Some may be asking, "How then can Christians be fed spiritually if every ministry is directed at non-believers?" This shows a lack of understanding of what the Gospel of the Kingdom is. The Gospel of the Kingdom is much more than "believe in Jesus and you'll go to heaven"--it is about transformation of lives from sinners to saints. As one author puts it, "the Gospel is not the ABC of Christianity but the A-to-Z (Zee) of Christianity!" It's really about focus rather than a change of message. The Gospel of the Kingdom gives hope to sinners but it also builds up the saints. But the focus of ministry will always be the unchurched. The existence of the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is a testimony that the Gospel is more than just getting people from hell into heaven--it's about transformed lives under the rule of God from the rule of Satan. This message is not just for the unchurched but also the churched who are often in dire need of personal transformation under Christ's lordship.

So, who or where are your "customers" in your Sunday ministry? Are the restaurant owner, waiters and waitresses serving one another and eating all the customers' food instead of waiting on the customers who are supposed to come to the restaurant to have their meals? That's the difference between a pastoral church (serving one another) and the missional church (serving the customers). Jesus' church is missional and it's for serving the real customers (unchurched) not the service staff (churched).

Father, grant us the same missional mindset that Jesus has--to serve and save sinners, not the righteous. Amen.

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