The Paper Pulpit
Several years ago, somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, my phone rang. A policeman on the other end said there had been a break-in at our church. I put my clothes on as quickly as I could and met him at the church. Most churches, especially in urban areas, have had break-ins. They usually happen on Sunday night when burglars surmise that the Sunday offerings are still in the church office.
The major problem churches face is not having break-ins occur; it is the lack of sufficient break-out. This by no means is a plea to do away with or curtail what happens inside the church building. What happens there is extremely important — especially if it leads to genuine “break-out” into its surrounding community.
God expects the church in each generation to get out of the harbor and sail on the open seas of human need. The army that never gets out of the briefing room will never win any battles. The athletic team that never gets out of the locker room to head to the field of play will never win any games. The great Quaker theologian, Elton Trueblood, once described the modern church as “a stained-glass foxhole” — in other words, a group of people who meet within the church walls in total isolation from their community. What every church that can be described as a stained glass foxhole needs is to stage a “break-out.”
A break-out makes sense when you understand what a Christian church is. God spoke to Abraham in the ancient city of Ur and made a covenant with him and with his descendants — a covenant based on faith that made the people of Israel a “called-out community.” In the New Testament, we see God making a “new covenant” based on faith — faith that accepts redemption through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross.
The apostle Paul described the church as “Christ’s body” (I Corinthians 12:12-30). A body is a marvelous instrument — each part designed to serve a particular function. So it is with the members of a church. It is Christ’s presence within the body of believers that makes it a church. Without Christ’s presence, it is just an organization such as a civic club, lodge or fraternity.
In the early days of our country, out west there were large cattle ranches that had huge cattle drives to large livestock centers in Kansas City, St. Louis and Dodge City. Each ranch had a branding iron with which they stamped their brand on their cattle. Rustlers were often caught because of the presence of a brand. A “maverick” was a calf without a brand — anyone could steal it and stick his own brand on it. Every Christian should ask himself or herself, “To what degree do I bear the brand of Christ to the world around me?”
A break-out also makes sense when you understand what the world is. John 3:16 tells us that “God so loved the entire world (not just a few people) that he gave his only son ... so that whoever believed in him might have eternal life.” I feel sorry for people who believe that God belongs to them and to them alone. God loves every single person in the entire world. It is the assigned mission of every church to share this fact not just inside its church walls, but out in the community and throughout the entire world.
My father, a small-town barber in Georgia, many years ago prepared a tomato plant seed bed every spring. Farmers for miles around would come to town to buy seedling tomato plants from him and transplant them in their gardens. The church is a plant bed. Fruit is never produced in the plant bed.
Don’t lose a lot of sleep if your church has had a break-in. But you should be really concerned if it has been several years since it has had any significant break-out into its surrounding community.
D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.