Many people have different ideas and perceptions about what the church is. Depending on their experience and engagement with the church, they may think that the church is a place you attend once a week hoping to appease God, trying to convince him that you’re not that bad.
Others might think that church is a place for off the wall religious people who are out of touch with modern culture and society.
And still others may associate church with some form of modern day religious therapy.
Everyone has a different perception of the church.
Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to find a way to talk about the church that would help reframe it for people who had written it off. I’ve been looking for a metaphor that will help recapture people’s imagination for what the church is all about.
Recently, over the last year, I’ve begun to use the image of the church being a hospital and a home.
In Luke 5 Jesus is hanging out with a bunch of “tax collectors and sinners.” This is right after Jesus has invited a tax collector to be one of his followers. In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were thought to be crooks and dirty businessmen. The Pharisees, who were the religious elite of Jesus’ day, saw Jesus spending time with these disgraceful people and were shocked and offended.
Jesus’ response to them was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (v31-32).”
When you’re sick, when you’re not well, it’s important to go to a place that will help you get well. A hospital is a place where it’s okay not to be okay and has the intended purpose of helping people become healthy and whole. Jesus states that his goal is the same. He has no problem spending time with people whose lives are a mess because his intention is to help people become well.
Recently, in a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that if we want to see God’s redemption take hold in people’s lives we have to be okay with engaging and befriending people in those unredeemed places in their lives.
So, the church should be a hospital, but it should also be a home.
It should be a place where people feel welcomed and safe. Individuals should be able to let their guard down, take off their masks and be their true selves. That’s what happens when I’m at my home and would imagine for others when they too are at their home. We tend to be our most true version of ourselves at home.
In addition to the metaphor of a home, the scriptures also describe the people of God as a family. In the New Testament alone, when Paul writes to different churches, he almost always addresses the people of the different churches as “brothers and sisters.” Also, in 1 Peter, Peter calls the people of God a “family of believers.”
This is significant because everyone has a desire to belong. Everyone wants to be a part of a group of people who loves them and accepts them simply for who they are. Our initial sense of belonging in life often comes from our family and the home in which we were raised. Therefore, by saying the church is a home, I’m speaking to this desire that we all have to belong.
So, I guess the bottom line of the metaphor of the church being a hospital and a home is this — the church is a place for broken people to belong.
What would you say that the church is?
What metaphors or images would you use to describe it?