The New Testament provides a number of images to help us understand the Church. They include bride, flock, body, building, family etc etc. A book written by Paul Minear suggests as many as 100 different pictures. All of this makes me nervous about making any one them primary or controlling. Each is a different facet displaying the beauty of the diamond.
Nevertheless I was struck at a recent seminar when the speaker contrasted the image of cruise ship and life boat as pictures of church. The cruise ship serves consumers, the life boat rescues the drowning. The idea stuck with me and I’ve been playing at coming up with my own version – perhaps hotel vs. field hospital does the same job.
In a hotel you pays your money and you expect a certain degree of comfort, provision, feeding, and service. If things aren’t to your liking you complain to the staff and threaten to take your custom elsewhere.
In a field hospital things are altogether different. People are dying, brought in from the battlefield with life threatening injuries. Stuff is just messy. It’s hard work, long hours, requiring self-sacrifice. New people will come bringing their gaping wounds with them. It might get cramped. You might not know them. You might not like them. But they’re dying. All of your felt needs won’t be met. And you won’t have access to the doctors whenever you feel like it. And ultimately the idea is to vacate the beds – to make people well, to clothe them in uniform, to give them their marching orders, and to get them back into the fray – storming the enemy, rescuing the dying.
And your mindset with regard to the church affects the way the church will grow. Hotels grow by transfer growth as people switch loyalty depending on consumer preference/experience. Hospitals fill as sick and dying people get brought in – they grow by evangelism and conversion.
It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but I think it’s the latter to which we are called.