A certain sub-culture in our area is moving around at a hurried pace right now–the garage sale groupies. They are easy to spot. They are the ones driving around early on Friday and Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee in one hand and the classified section in the other. How they are driving, I do not know. But I assure you that you do not want to be closely following one of their number when they see a posterboard sign while driving down the highway at 60 mph. They will slam on the brakes, caring little about whether someone is behind them or not, in order to read the tiny hand-written address and time of a sale.
Yes, this is the time of year when many families are sorting through their belongings and pulling out unwanted, unneeded, or unused items for a yard sale. At yard sales you find clothes that no longer fit or are out of style, decorations that no longer go with the interior design scheme, outdated computer software, chipped figurines, tables that need refinishing, slightly used teddy bears, puzzles that have already been worked or have missing pieces, toys that have lost there thrill, and the list goes on. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Sometimes, however, one man’s trash is just one man’s trash and certain items are never sold. In this case, they are either given away or thrown away. Yard sales provide an opportunity to get rid of the old and make room for the new.
There are many self-proclaimed church growth “experts” who adopt a yard sale approach to church expansion. There motto is out with the old, and in with the new. They urge church leaders not to waste their energy on unfaithful members—those who are on the roll but seldom attend and don’t really fit in. They may be rough around the edges, outdated, old, or immature—names without faces. They are the fringe of the church. Spending your effort on these, the “experts” say, yields little profit. Rather, leaders should concentrate their efforts solely on keeping the faithful happy and going after new prospects. That is the key to growing a church, they say.
Pragmatically and statistically, they appear to be right on the money. Many churches seem to have exploded in attendance from adopting this strategy. However, biblically, this approach is not an option. The Chief Cornerstone of the Church, Jesus Christ, never modeled a “seek the best, leave the rest” ministry methodology. Rather, He laid down His life for the prodigals, wanderers, and societal rejects, at times choosing to leave the fold to pursue a wandering sheep. Neither did the apostles write off the ones who “just weren’t getting it.” There is no biblical ground for jettisoning efforts to reach inactive or wayward members.
Pastors must be committed to shepherding the entire flock that God has entrusted to them—even those on the fringe. As under-shepherds of Christ’s Church, elders have the sobering responsibility to “keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Heb. 13:17). We are accountable for every member of our congregation—for the faithfully active and the woefully inactive, and all those in between. Please pray for your pastor(s), that they will have the spiritual stamina and selfless love to faithfully carry out this work.
However, the responsibility of maintaining connectivity with all church members does not fall solely upon the pastor or elders. The body of Christ is designed so that every member contributes to the health of the entire organism—the stronger members make up for the failings of the weaker members. Paul urged the entire Thessalonian church to, “admonish the unruly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14). We don’t ignore the unruly, we admonish them. We don’t write off the faint-hearted, we encourage them. We don’t let the morally weak fend for themselves, we help them. The Church’s great strength comes from her interdependence among her members and her utter dependence upon her Head—Jesus Christ.
Do not be satisfied with a “yard sale” view of the strugglers in your church. Every person and every family is unique and requires special care. Do not overlook those who live in the shadows of the congregation. Go out of your way to get to know those who don’t seem to fit in. Do not by intimidated out of loving those who have some spiritual scratches or flaws—don’t we all. Take notice of who is present at worship and who is absent. Develop a habit of genuine concern for those in your congregation.
May our churches grow in a depth of teaching that is matched by a depth of caring for the sake of Christ’s Bride.