KEY TEXT: Luke 15:3-7 So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
KEY THOT: One of the mark of an evangelistic and missional church is joy. The absence of joy is a tell-tale sign that a church has shifted from being missional (outsider-focused) to being just pastoral (insider-focused).Why? Because Jesus says that there is “more joy” in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. The pastoral mindset says, "Why waste so much money, energy and time pursuing one lost sheep when there are ninety-nine inside that need our love and care?" Sounds very spiritual, but dead wrong. And the shepherd of the flock is not appointed to ensure that existing members are kept happy but to lead a search and rescue team to find the lost sheep of God.
The implication of the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the lost son (Luke 15:11ff) is that the "tax-collectors and sinners" are God's children, not Satan's. Jesus spent much time with the lost because they are God's children that have not come home. Implied in the parable of the lost son is the truth that lost sinners are God's children who have not been found and returned to the anxious Father. Jesus' mission is seeking for God's lost children and bring them home to the Father. They belong to God, not to Satan and the church's priority is not the ninety-nine that are already safely home but the lost children who have not come home.
Most of us parents have experienced the anguish and anxiety when our child is "lost" in a busy shopping mall. We will leave everything behind and will not rest until our child is found. Yet, sadly, I have been told by spiritual elders that we should not waste manpower and money going after the lost when we already have so many members in the congregation that need our pastoral care. I would ask these leaders with such mindset to apply this principle to finding their own lost child, since they are "just one" compared to countless children that are still safe and sound at home.
Jesus implies that a church that is focused on outsiders, seeing unbelievers regularly getting saved and set free from their sinful addictions (gambling, nicotine, alcohol, sex, etc.) and spiritual strongholds (mental & emotional sicknesses, demonic controls and oppression, etc.) will experience “more joy” than the church that is focused only on insiders who are already safe and secure. What accounts for the greater joy? It is the spill-over effect of the great rejoicing taking place in heaven (God and his angels) over one sinner who repents and returns home to the Father.
This heavenly joy is conveyed to the church through the indwelling Holy Spirit who is also rejoicing as part of the rejoicing God: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Churches that are not engaged regularly in this saving work of God miss experiencing the Lord rejoicing over them with gladness and loud singing! Some of these churches don't even enjoy singing. But thanks be to God when we regularly see the lost children of God come home to the Father. This joy is out of this world! It beats any “happiness” that worldly pursuits and pleasures can give. What a privilege to share the rejoicing and exultation of our God in us!
Why are some churches so attractive to non-believers? Because they are seeking for them, just as they were "drawing near to hear him (Jesus)" because the Son of Man came to seek and save that which was lost. Sinners want to come to a church where they are welcomed into the presence of a rejoicing God! Some church services are designed for insiders only. But missional churches are designed for outsiders. And joy is the mark of such missional churches. I've been to many different churches and I can tell which church is outsider-focused and which are insider-focused. The joy (or lack of it) is often palpable: the faces tell it all.
Joy is a contagion we need in churches. But we cannot get it by designing "better programs" to make our congregations happy. Joy is a by-product of alignment of our lives with the missional agenda of God. The Holy Spirit is the source of our “righteousness, peace and joy” (Rom. 14:17) and his presence and power is released in greater intensity when a church is engaged actively in evangelism: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The reason some "conservative" churches are wary of the topic of the Holy Spirit is usually because they are in a "conserving" mode rather than "evangelising" mode. They have become ingrown and insular: even when they introduce "contemporary" worship, it does not change the sad expressions on their faces because true joy is not generated by being more musical but by being more missional. And such churches remain unfortunately unattractive to unbelievers despite their "upbeat" music, for they lacks the joy of the Lord in their midst.
If we want a church that is joy-filled rather than guilt-filled, we need to get out of our comfort zone and get missional! There is no short-cut to a joyful community. May God open our eyes!
Father, thank You that Your joy overflows into our congregation when we are engaged in getting sinners to repent and return home to the arms of our awaiting heavenly Father. Thank You Lord for the privilege to be part of this joyful search and rescue team. Amen.