On your Mark
Outside of our comfort zones
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy
who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but
sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NIV)
E.S. Williams served the Assemblies of God as general
superintendent from 1929 to 1949, bringing godly leadership to a church that
grew rapidly and benefitted greatly from his doctrinal stability, pastoral
wisdom and personal kindness.
After retiring at the age of 65, he lived well into his 90s.
Not too long before he died, my wife and I visited him at his small apartment.
He had been my mother’s teacher in Bible school in the early 1920s, and my
motive for seeing him that day included asking him for any counsel he could
give me as a young pastor.
I put this question to him: “What do you see as the main
problem of the church?”
Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “Socialization.”
Then he explained what he meant.
“When a church is younger, most of the people in it are new
converts — and they are very focused on evangelism,” he said. “They have
a lot of family and friends who are not followers of Christ. But, as time goes
along, more and more they enjoy the company of their fellow Christian friends.
They have fewer and fewer non-Christian acquaintances. The church then begins
to settle down and become more of a social club than a soul-saving agency.”
I’ve never forgotten his words. They correspond to Jesus’
response when He was criticized for eating with the tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus got out of the box of safe associations by
fraternizing with persons not on the invite list of the religiously
respectable. He explained that He was like a doctor. Physicians do not do any
good when they open their offices only to the well. Doctors are for sick folk,
and Jesus came for sinners.
Jesus’ example forces us to ask some uncomfortable
questions. Do you or I get criticized by religious types for spending social
time with people who are in suspect categories? Or do we only hang out with
people who share our church associations, political beliefs or social networks?
One of our young ministers tells the moving story of how he
and a small group around him planted a church in a new community. They spent
nine months making friends before they even launched a public service. One
evening a week they wrote on a long sheet of butcher paper the names of the new
friends they had met that week. They prayed over each name — while the
list grew to more than 900 names, most or all of whom were non-Christian.
In fact, before they held their first Sunday service, this
young minister conducted a funeral for a young husband and father whom he had struck
up a friendship with while sitting on a park bench, and ultimately led to the
Lord. Is it any wonder that there were salvations at the funeral? On the first
Sunday they launched, 283 people attended. Twenty-eight persons came to Christ
that very day.
What did this young minister and his friends do? Exactly
what Jesus did! They built relationships with “sinners.” May we go and do
GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies
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