Many years ago (in the early 70s), Uni and I would open our home to a large number of young people in their teens and twenties for a weekly Bible study and worship time. The kids were a mixed group, a few would have been considered “hippies”; most were wannabe-hippies. And a large number felt alienated to a greater or lesser extent: from their parents, from the church, from society in general. We’d spend hours talking and discussing the Scriptures and how they applied in our lives. Many were reading through their Bibles and they shared new things they learned and new insights with the group.
One evening, one of them excitedly shared this passage: “And David went from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and his brothers and all his father’s household heard and they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress and everyone who was in debt and everyone who was bitter of soul joined him. And he became the leader over them. And there were with him, about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:1, 2).
“Ya know, we’re sort of like that bunch!” she said, and quoted the descriptive words. Many in the group gave their equivalent of Amen: “Wow!” “Heavy!” “Right on man!”
Years later, when I was teaching college, I also took on serving as pastor of a small church. The church was suffering from white-flight in a deteriorating neighborhood, even though there were members from various racial backgrounds. They were a loving group of people, mostly (but not all) lower-middle class, some with emotional problems, some with financial problems. A few had been around for years, and had had hopes for the church, only to see them unfulfilled.
And I heard that same Scripture quoted – a number of times, in fact. And it was quoted with a certain bit of pride (the good kind), even thankfulness.
Isn’t that the way the church should be? Jesus hung around with what we could call the misfits of society – tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners in general (Luke 15:1; Matthew 21:32), people of whom the religious leaders of the day said, “… This crowd which doesn’t know the Law is cursed” (John 7:49). He attracted the sick, the crippled, the blind, the mentally ill. (Of course He healed them.)
Paul told the Corinthians, “For look at your calling brothers, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many of good birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong. And God chose the lowborn of the world – and the despised – even those who are nothing, that He might render useless those who are something, so that no flesh should boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
We – especially in America – tend to think of church success in terms of numbers and numerical growth, of buildings, of programs. But while I don’t believe that God disapproves of these, I suspect that they are not His criteria for measuring success.
Someone (I don’t know who – it may have been a member of that little church), said: “The church isn’t a museum for the display of saints; it’s a hospital for the healing of sinners.”