Today I have been reflecting on nature of Church growth and Kingdom advance in light of a parable of Jesus in Luke 15. It seems so many churches in our nation are looking around at a massive lack of fruit in our ministries (praise God though this is not the reality in many parts of the world). We wonder where the life went, were the enthusiasm went, where the power went. I wonder if we couldn’t more appropriately formulate the queery by asking: “Where did Jesus go?”
Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Maybe we lack the power, purpose, and passion of the Church in other parts of the world, nation, or city because Jesus has literally left the building. He said he would, but he wanted us to go with him. Could it be that many of our churches have slipped into a comfort-zone fully dedicated to the 99 while Jesus is off looking for the 1? What might it mean for our churches that when Jesus brings the 1 home we are so self-consumed that we don’t even celebrate? What if Jesus spends his time and effort finding a lost sheep and “joyfully carries it home on his shoulders,” only to find that no one missed it and no one has their party pants on?
Maybe we lack life in our churches because Jesus is taking lost sheep to places and people who will celebrate with heaven when sinners come home and reorient their individual and institutional priorities to see more come home.
Here is the cold hard fact: Jesus will always leave the 99 for the 1.
That is Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever.” This is called the immutability of God. It doesn’t mean you can’t turn off his volume (while you can’t do that either). What it means is God character is eternally consistent. He has the same heart for people from age to age. So, Jesus is still leaving the 99 for the 1 today.
His call to the 99 is to remember what it was like to be the 1.