Today’s reading was Mark 1:29-39
29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.
32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.
I find it interesting that when people have a crisis they come to Jesus. In this town, those who were sick and demon-possessed (and who presumably had either no access to, or no success with, the medical professionals) knew where they could get help. Go to where Jesus is.
The church, which is the people of God, filled with the Holy Spirit is where Jesus is, or at least, where he should be. In the past, when a crisis befell a city, the population would gather together at a cathedral and join together in prayer for some relief. In modern times, when there is a crisis people gather at community centers, football stadiums, schools and other public meeting places, but rarely the church. How have we lost our way? When did we cease to become the place people knew they could find help?
Secondly, in this story, we see how essential it is for even Jesus to go out early to pray, perhaps to restore what had been taken out of him the night before, filled with healings of the sick and demon-possessed. If even Jesus needs refilling after ministry, how much more do we? And it is in that quiet time, alone with his Father, that his priorities are made clear. For anyone else, if you had just been a big hit in an area, and if your best friends came and told you that the people were clamoring for more of you, it would be a powerful temptation to remain, to coast on your success, to use your achievements and popularity as a platform for your message. But in the quiet time, Jesus is centered again on his mission, which is to take the gospel to many, rather than remain in one place and become the local miracle-working celebrity.
As I asked Landon about this, about why Jesus felt compelled to move on, he said, “Because he wanted new people to know about God.” Absolutely. The statistics for the American church in this regard are not encouraging. 95% of churches in the US are experiencing no growth at all. 3% are experiencing only transfer growth (people moving from one church to another). Only 2% are experiencing growth from new converts, people finding Christ for the first time.
Why is this? We see clearly that the model of Jesus and the early church is to reach those yet unreached. Yet the priority of so many churches (reflected in the budget, and the time allotted to certain activities) is keeping those who are already there happy. Now, I’m not against the concept of a happy congregation, but I am concerned when this becomes the priority rather than looking outward at those who are lost. It’s as though we are building a luxurious beach house and forgetting to man the lifeboats.
To be sure, this is a balancing act. We are not called the neglect the sheep already in the pen, either. But I always want us to be asking the question: what is the mission? Are we reaching the lost? Are we allocating resources towards that end?
To be honest, some churches on not that keen on having new Christians around. It’s a lot like having a baby in the house. There is mess, confusion, noise, uncertainty, a disruption to the established routines, a re-ordering of priorities, and maybe we don’t want to pay that price. But these are the characteristics of new life. If we want orderly and quiet, we can find that in a cemetery. But we are in the business of new life, which means church should look a lot more like a nursery and a lot less like a cemetery.
Please pray for the pastors and elders of Central Christian Church this weekend as we go on retreat and strategize and pray about the next phase of this church’s life. And let’s pray for ourselves, that we are always seeking the new territory rather than settling in to the life of the comfortable.