Once upon a time there was a lighthouse that stood on a rocky stretch of coastline that was well-known for its shipwrecks. At first it was just a small hut with a small boat and a small team of volunteers that kept a watchful eye on the seas. And every time a ship found itself in trouble, they braved the story seas to bring them in.
Over time the lighthouse became a popular lifesaving station that people frequented. Men and women, boys and girls joined by the hundreds and learned how to be effective rescue workers. They fixed the place up. They made it bright and attractive. Over time the vision began to shift and it became more of a country club. Professional lifesavers were hired to do all the work, while the members stayed inside to enjoy each other’s company.
One night there was a terrible shipwreck off the coast and multiple crews bought in load after load of cold, wet people. They were dirty and sick. They were from all over the world. Their skin was different colors and they spoke different languages. And the beautiful club house became quite a mess taking care of all those people.
The next week the board of directors met together and said, “This is not right. We should not be messing up sacred spaces.” So they built a shower house outside the club so people could clean themselves up before coming in.
The next lifesaving station meeting was fractious. The people said, “Look, we want to get out of the lifesaving business. We’ve got a very comfortable place here. We all know each other. We all know the club rules. Bringing outsiders inside messes everything up.
In that same meeting was a minority group who stood to say, “Lifesaving is the reason why we are here. That’s our mission, and everything we do around here ought to have something to do with lifesaving.”
The lifesavers were voted down, so they moved down the coast and built a modest lifesaving station. And a few years later, the same thing happened again. Lots of people joined. They fixed the place up. It got dirty every time shipwrecked people were brought in. And so they turned the whole place into a members’ only country club.
And now there are a number of exclusive country clubs along that shoreline. And shipwrecks happen all the time. And a lot of people die.
I think you can see the point in this parable – All too often the church has become an exclusive country club. We’ve lost sight of our mission. And a lot of shipwrecked souls are dying.
Dan Martella is administrative pastor for the Paradise church in California, and managing editor for Best Practices for Adventist Ministry