When I was in seminary, a professor challenged us future pastors to view the church as a hospital rather than a museum. Too often, he was seeing churches as a place where people go to look and see all the “good” the church had done in the past. But in a museum, you aren’t allowed to touch anything. He wanted to challenge his students and future church leaders to view the church more like a hospital - a place where broken sinners need to come to find healing.
Through my time in ministry, I’ve appreciated this constant reminder to focus on the lost as Jesus came to seek and save. However, the teaching needs to expand beyond this: the church can’t just act as a hospital because once someone is healed from their brokenness, their transformed being in Christ needs to know and understand what comes next. The church needs to embrace its function as a MUSEUM (acknowledged history), HOSPITAL (healing), SCHOOL (teaching, learning, mentoring), and SENDING AGENCY (equipping and sending people).
MUSEUM – I just celebrated the 40th anniversary of Wheaton Chinese Alliance Church where I had the privilege to serve while I was in Chicago. St Louis Chinese Gospel Church, where I served prior to coming to Central, recently celebrated 90 years of God’s faithfulness. Now, I come to Central Presbyterian Church, going strong with 174 years of history. In church membership class, the material had this quote, “the more we know about who we were, the better we can understand who we are and where we are going”. Although it is important to know our past, it is even more significant to commemorate how God is always present, no matter the circumstance. We honor and cherish God’s consistent faithfulness to us and therefore, can hold secure knowing He will continue to be there through all circumstances. As in times of crisis, we also remember the many blessings that God has given us. It is not to say hardships are lessened, ignored or forgotten, but rather how they have built us up and challenged us to seek, to change what is not working. God never changes but how can we make sure we are faithful and also communicate God’s constancy in ways the changing world can understand and know.
HOSPITAL – Churches need to be seriously challenged with the ability to love people and help them find healing and new life in Christ’s sacrifice. I have been in beautiful churches, but it becomes all too easy to prioritize “prettiness.” God reminds us that it is not the building but His people that make the church. And to also remember, as Ravi Zaccharias shares, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.” The church needs to help the lost and broken realize the spiritual death that is in their lives, through practical needs then spiritual ones.
SCHOOL – When I say school, I know people have different reactions. I hope what comes to mind is a place for intentional teaching, learning, and mentoring. In this, there is an emphasis of practical application and fully internalizing God’s Word where it is lived out in our lives. It also has to be a place where there is true mentorship where we walk along with the next generation to help them grow and learn from life experience but also realize how much we, ourselves, can learn from them.
SENDING AGENCY – I remember preaching a series on the Great Commission and by the exit doors it said, “You are now entering into the Mission Field”. The church needs to see itself as sending God’s people into the world to share the Gospel through word and deed. I recall hearing of churches that would commission all professions to go from the church and be God’s light as teachers, lawyers, doctors, and stay at home moms. Can we continue to be a church that sends people well, not just missionaries to many parts of the lost world abroad, but also right here in our community?
One last important thing: there will be different seasons in the church when each of these things are emphasized more than others. However for the church to be healthy, we must never neglect being the HOSPITAL. The church needs to be a place for the broken to find healing in God. When people are hurting, people need to know that the church is a place where they can come and find healing … A sanctuary, where we dispel “prayer gossip”, self-righteousness and judgement. A place people wantto come because they know they will be loved and cared for. May God continue to humble us and guide us.