About a week ago I was googling around the internet and I looked into one of our neighboring churches' websites. They describe themselves as an evangelical church of their denomination, stating that they believe that "hope is not a human achievement, but God's gift through the power of the Holy Spirit." I really liked their statement of their aspiration: to "dream dreams for ministry big enough to know that the results cannot depend on us alone but rather on God."
Part of their vision statement made me think, though: they described their urgency to minister to "unsaved and unchurched people, believing that the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and save the lost."
You know, we don't talk much about "the lost" in my denomination. There are probably myriad and complicated reasons for this. Maybe it's because these days many of us are reluctant to consign those who believe differently to the fires of hell. That's what it means to be lost, after all. To be consigned to the fires of hell, because you don't know Jesus.
I used to be a missionary, which means it was my work, and my passion, to introduce others to Jesus. I do really think it matters to know Jesus. But somehow I resist (and have always resisted) the next statement: and if you don't, you are eternally lost!
And yet, I do think that it's true: "the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and to save the lost." And that this is the heart of the church's mission, too.
So, just who are the lost, then?
In my congregation we are preparing a fall community forum. The subject is "The achievement gap" between students of color and white students; more precisely, this gap is between children living in poverty and those who don't. We want to eliminate that gap. Our school district is very diverse, with white students and African American students and Latino students and African students. They are all beautiful -- but they are not all succeeding. And there are some white parents who are, for various reasons, taking their children out of the schools.
We know that this will not be an easy task. Someone from our group said recently that it's not just an achievement gap; it's really a hope gap. Children don't achieve because they don't have hope. People do drugs, get into destructive relationships, commit crimes because they don't have hope. Whole communities give up because they don't have hope.
Who are the lost? People who don't have hope: hope for the next life, of course -- but hope for this life, too, hope that their living makes a difference, hope that they will flourish, that they will have enough to eat, a place to sleep, a job, a reason to live.
The church has lost its way if it forgets that the heart of Jesus' mission was to seek and to save the lost. It doesn't exist simply to inspire itself, to make the people who come to worship "feel better" when they leave. The church exists to seek and to save the lost, those without hope, whether that is hope for eternal life, or hope for life right now.
The apostle Paul once wrote: "If for this life only we have hoped, we are of all people most to be pitied." But I think it's true the other way, as well, "If for eternal life only we have hoped, we are most to be pitied."
Pray for us, as we seek God's vision to address "the Hope gap" in our community, and even among ourselves.
I pray that we, as well, begin to "dream dreams for ministry big enough to know that the results cannot depend on us alone but rather on God."