I had a conversation with a writer friend the other day and he told me the main problem with many churches these days is they’re more schools than hospitals.
Lore Ferguson, a wonderful writer/blogger/thinker, published an article last week with this opening line. She goes on to think through the implications in light of the fact that Jesus said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). She asserts that we are all “heart sick” with sin and need to be able to come to a place that will allow us to be broken. The article, titled “The Hospital“, deserves a full read.
I’ve been pondering this and would say that I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of the article. Churches ought to be a place for non-Christians and Christians alike to be able to confess and repent of sin. But, I felt like the analogy needs more balance. If we, the church, are all “hospital” and no “school,” then we are only fulfilling half the Great Commission.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19)
Baptizing is the call to repentance and faith—healing the heart sickness. But the words “disciple” and “teaching” have the scholastic connotations. If we become a Gospel Triage, then we run the risk of bandaging gushing wounds, setting broken limbs, and sending folks on their way without any further guidance. If we fall into the Gospel University ditch, we risk pragmatically denying peoples’ profound brokenness by teaching principles without repentance and faith. And arguably a greater danger is the temptation to become prideful and unmerciful to our brothers and sisters in our zeal for adherence to the law.
So, may I suggest the Gospel Refugee Camp Turned Boarding School analogy? (I know, it’s wordy, but just go with it for a minute). Here you arrive wrecked and clueless and first things first, you are offered the cool drink of water that is forgiveness in Christ. It is a rescue shelter for the frayed and tired seeking asylum from a broken world. People come limping in and are given the thing they need most: salvation.
But then, as folks are added to the camp, it becomes a little community. You live, work, and play together. You laugh, cry, and sing together. You learn and grow. It becomes more like scenes from John Knowles’ A Separate Peace or Peter Weir’s film Dead Poets Society. Discipleship is happening—elders are teaching “youngers” and peers are discussing issues amongst themselves.
It’s so much more than just going to school (or to the hospital) and then coming home again. The church becomes a home and a family of redeemed people. We have Jesus Christ, his person and work, as our common denominator, and that knits us together as a body. We continue to be healed from our wounds (read: continue repenting of sin), and we are continually conformed to the image of Christ, observing all that God has commanded us. I think that’s the ideal and I would hope that both Lore Ferguson and Tony Woodlief would agree 🙂