Another quiet night’s sleep was shattered…

…by the midnight alarm. The claxon went off in the small, New England lighthouse on the rocky Massachusetts coast. Another ship had run aground in the night fog on the rocks. The men and women in the small, dingy lighthouse jumped out of bed, pulled on their gear, and got to work rescuing the survivors.

They couldn’t save everyone from every shipwreck that happened on their watch, but they saved many. The small under-funded, dingy building housed a team that lived the sea. It was hard, thankless work, but they loved it. They were sold out for the mission of saving lives from boats wrecked on the rocks in the fog.

One day, the people from the nearby towns who had been saved from drowning by this valiant little lighthouse decided to help. They wanted to give back. They started to donate to fix up that dingy old lighthouse. They upgraded all the equipment. They painted the building. They bought carpeting to cover the cold cement floor. And they baked all day preparing a banquet for the rescuers.

It was a beautiful meal with all the fixings.

The rescuers had never experienced such gratitude. Everyone was having a wonderful time celebrating life in the newly painted and upgraded lighthouse. There was only one problem. The claxon went off.

The rescuers flew out of the meal, donned their gear and headed for the sea, much to the offense of those who spent all day cooking, and many weeks planning.

The survivors from tonight’s shipwreck dripped water and mud all over the new carpet. Worse, the rescuers had to give a couple victims CPR. As they started breathing again, as is common with drowning victims, they vomited out the sea water. All. Over. The. New. Carpet. The donors were quite upset.

Worse, the team lost a rescuer in the stormy surf that night, so everyone was in a foul mood. Some of the former survivors who’d previously been saved by that team member were very angry at the newcomers, that their shipwreck had cost the life of their hero.

But the donors were very resourceful.

They came up with lots of ways to “fix” the “problem.”

  • “We need to have another room where victims can be brought if they’re messy, until they get cleaned up.”
  • “All shipwrecks need to be scheduled during a reasonable time so they don’t interfere with our planned activities.”
  • “We need safety standards so the rescuers don’t sacrifice too much. The lighthouse should be a safe place.”
  • “We need a Board of Directors so our donations aren’t wasted on just any random shipwrecks. We need to pick and choose the strategic shipwrecks.”

The rescuers couldn’t believe their ears. While they appreciated the many expressions of gratitude they’d recently received, they hadn’t realized that they came with strings attached, the strings of expectations. Expectations setup everyone for offense. And offense justifies any bad behavior, including ending relationships.

The rescuers realized the donors just didn’t understand the lighthouse’s life-saving mission. They tried to explain it, over and over. But the donors would have none of it. They’d forgotten that they were once shipwrecked themselves.

Eventually, they had a lighthouse split.

The donors built a much bigger and grander lighthouse inland, away from that nasty, stormy shore. It had lights and music and amazing food and shopping and programs. Lots of comfortable programs. It was a place where you could really feel good about yourself. But no life was ever saved within its walls.

The rescuers stayed with the old dingy lighthouse on the shore, where the shipwrecks were. The new paint began to peel, and the carpet became very stained. But lives were continually dragged out of the ocean and saved there. Some went right back out in the water and drowned. Others, once saved, went to the inland lighthouse, because, well, it was just so much better funded and had better programs. But others became rescuers themselves, sharing what they’d been given. There was never a shortage of shipwrecks.

What is church supposed to be?

Is it a lighthouse with a life-saving mission to reach people who have wrecked their lives on the rocks of sin in the fog of deception? Or is it a pristine environment where everyone’s happy all the time, or at least pretends to be?

Should the sermons make me feel good about myself? Or should they challenge me and make me angry?

Is church a place where we welcome grieving people in crises? Or is it a place where we go to feel good about ourselves?

Kris Vallotton had a dream, recorded in one of Darren Wilson’s films, where people were behaving badly in church. They were doing drugs, having sex in the pews, stealing from each other, using profanity freely, beating each other up. Kris remembers yelling in the dream, “If you can’t honor God’s house, then get out!”

And then the Holy Spirit said to him, “Why would you send away the people I’ve brought in.”

Kris said, “Well, what do you want to do about all this mess?”

The Holy Spirit just said, “Teach them.”

Are We Willing…

… to allow messy people in our churches to learn to the ways of life? Are we willing to learn the ways of life ourselves? Or do we think, having now been saved, that we know it all?

What has church been for you? A life-saving lighthouse? A safe place? Or just the Sunday morning show? Tell us your story in the comments. We would love to pray with you for healing from church hurt. And please share this post on social media if you think it would help someone else.

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