I remember my Dad telling me about a guy he knew that was always in jail. Apparently this guy would commit enough of a crime to land behind bars. After he had served his time, he would be out long enough to do something else wrong and go back to jail. He would get caught on purpose. Why? He felt safe there. There were no responsibilities. He was provided a roof over his head and three squares a day. He eschewed his freedom for the secure confines of the county jail.
I thought of him last September when I began the sermon series entitled Local Church Prisoners. Had we, as a church and as individual Christians, become like that guy? Were we content to stay where we felt it was safe and secure?
The first in that series was one of those sermons in search of a Scripture. I finally settled on Ephesians 4:1-6. I did that primarily because of the first verse where Paul calls himself a “prisoner for the Lord…” (Which, by the way, is a far cry from what we had become.) At that point I had continued to go back to the Facebook page, Local Church Escapees. I was haunted by their existence. They caused me to re-evaluate our goals as a local church.
I came to the conclusion that we were asking the wrong question. We were continually asking ourselves, “How can we get them in here?” Making us attractive to new people always seemed to be the main thrust. Even worse than asking the wrong question, we didn’t seem to be very good at answering that question (right or wrong).
The fact is, we’re never told (Biblically) to do that—to lure people to a building. We’re told to seek them out…be “fishers of men”…”go and make disciples of all nations.” We stayed where we felt safe. We did a lot of nice things…good things. But we seldom strayed beyond the confines of our little chapel. We weren’t prisoners for the Lord; we were becoming prisoners of another sort.
I wondered out loud if we had become caricatures of ourselves. We emphasized certain aspects of who we were as the church. However, we did so to the exclusion of many other important attributes. The result was a caricature. We were still recognizable, but not always functioning as we could.
In short, we had become local church prisoners. Like the guy my Dad told me about, we wanted to be safe and secure. We wanted to be protected from the responsibilities of our own freedom in Christ. We were eschewing that freedom in exchange for protection. And we began defending our own image to make ourselves feel better. We looked like the church, but we didn’t act like her.
So what is the church, really? What should we be? What should we look like? How should we act? I finally realized I might have imprisoned myself to avoid being the answer.