I’m on this crazy marathon to work on a book with working title The Other 80%. I do extended writing sessions a few days each week, and then I plan to report an insight on this blog, as I explain here in the opening blog. Here’s my insight from yesterday’s writing session, no doubt the most theologically oriented of all 18 I’ll pen:
2. Does Jesus’ illustration of the lost sheep (Matthew 18: 12-14 and Luke 15:1-7) support BOTH reaching the lost AND seeking after wayward, sinning people who were at one point in the fold? I think it does. I am 100% in favor of the Great Commission’s evangelistic mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ worldwide, teaching them and baptizing them into His body, the church (Matthew 28:18-20). But I also think, as studies like Willow Creek’s Reveal have uncovered, that church leaders have responsibility to watch over the existing flock, seeking out wayward sheep that have started to wander.
To that end, we worked yesterday on the opening lines of the book. What do you think of the following? Better: How could it hook your interest even more?
And he gathered his disciples around him and taught them saying:
There was a shepherd tending his flocks. During his evening count he discovered that one sheep out of his flock of a hundred had gone astray and was missing. “Not to worry,” he thought, “I still have ninety-nine. Their wool will sustain me and my family. After all that missing sheep was not so productive anyway.”
In the morning he led the remaining sheep to a familiar green pasture. Several sheep were tired of the same grass, the same bubbling brook and the same routine so they decided to wander over the knoll and off to another seemingly greener meadow dotted with buttercups and clover. The shepherd called out to them, but they didn’t heed his pleas. His faithful border collie attempted to round up the errant members of the flock to no avail. After awhile the shepherd whistled to the collie and said, “Come on back boy. They will come back on their own this evening and, if not, I’m sure some other shepherd will find them and care for them.”
Over the coming weeks a few of the wayward sheep returned, but also a few of the remaining ewes and lambs wandered off, assuming that the other pastures must be pleasant indeed since so few of their friends had returned. A few others chose not to participate regularly with the rest of the flock, instead frequently hanging out by the barn. The shepherd invited them but eventually gave up. “They’ll come when they’re hungry enough,” he said.
When shearing day arrived the flock had dwindled to just forty-three. A dozen had wool coats that were quite unproductive and were hardly worth shearing. Ten were still lambs and needed their undeveloped wool coats to survive the cold evenings. Thus the shepherd sheared the remaining twenty-one productive sheep, bagged their wool and took it to market.
On the way home the shepherd pondered how his family would survive on his meager income, and why his flock hadn’t been more productive this year. “Perhaps,” he thought, “if I could just entice some sheep from my neighbor’s flock to join – or rejoin – my flock, then all will be well. Or maybe I can find a few of the remaining wild rams on the mountainside.” So off he went to try.
In the real parable, the shepherd is troubled even to lose one sheep. He looks until he finds the one that was lost and brings it back to rejoin the ninety-nine others (Luke 15:1-7). In that picture, this book would need to be titled The Other 1%.
However, that doesn’t correspond to the reality found in most of America’s churches. Certainly no pastor or church leadership team intentionally wants to exclude or overlook persons who belong to their churches – barring moments of frustration with Grumpy Gus or Divisive Dora. Nor do clergy and lay leaders explicitly make decisions to ignore those in their midst that are uninvolved, marginal or are drifting toward inactivity.
Church leaders certainly don’t want efforts to bring in new persons to dissipate the energy of the long-time volunteers. Churches know they need to reach out and bring new people into the congregation if they are to survive. But if all the church’s attention and emphasis focuses on outreach and first-timer hospitality, does that rob the energy, effort and resources a church has to devote to long-term attender development and the deeper maturation of the existing saints? Indeed, this is the balancing act that all leaders are faced with: how to balance outreach to potential participants with the inreach and discipleship of the existing congregation, from regulars to inactives.
Many books are written these days that assist a church in thinking about how to reach out, invite others, and then offer them hospitality and integration into the church. We’re in favor of those and list several in Appendix A. This book addresses another big issue, an equally pressing need in many of America’s churches: how to understand the marginal attenders and members already associated with your congregation. The book offers strategies of how to reshape the church’s volunteer structures in an effort to address the needs of the marginal participants and strategies to motivate these existing congregational members into more active involvement.