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On your Mark

Outside of our comfort zones

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, NIV)

E.S. Williams served the Assemblies of God as general superintendent from 1929 to 1949, bringing godly leadership to a church that grew rapidly and benefitted greatly from his doctrinal stability, pastoral wisdom and personal kindness.

After retiring at the age of 65, he lived well into his 90s. Not too long before he died, my wife and I visited him at his small apartment. He had been my mother’s teacher in Bible school in the early 1920s, and my motive for seeing him that day included asking him for any counsel he could give me as a young pastor.

I put this question to him: “What do you see as the main problem of the church?”

Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “Socialization.” Then he explained what he meant.

“When a church is younger, most of the people in it are new converts — and they are very focused on evangelism,” he said. “They have a lot of family and friends who are not followers of Christ. But, as time goes along, more and more they enjoy the company of their fellow Christian friends. They have fewer and fewer non-Christian acquaintances. The church then begins to settle down and become more of a social club than a soul-saving agency.”

I’ve never forgotten his words. They correspond to Jesus’ response when He was criticized for eating with the tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus got out of the box of safe associations by fraternizing with persons not on the invite list of the religiously respectable. He explained that He was like a doctor. Physicians do not do any good when they open their offices only to the well. Doctors are for sick folk, and Jesus came for sinners.

Jesus’ example forces us to ask some uncomfortable questions. Do you or I get criticized by religious types for spending social time with people who are in suspect categories? Or do we only hang out with people who share our church associations, political beliefs or social networks?

One of our young ministers tells the moving story of how he and a small group around him planted a church in a new community. They spent nine months making friends before they even launched a public service. One evening a week they wrote on a long sheet of butcher paper the names of the new friends they had met that week. They prayed over each name — while the list grew to more than 900 names, most or all of whom were non-Christian.

In fact, before they held their first Sunday service, this young minister conducted a funeral for a young husband and father whom he had struck up a friendship with while sitting on a park bench, and ultimately led to the Lord. Is it any wonder that there were salvations at the funeral? On the first Sunday they launched, 283 people attended. Twenty-eight persons came to Christ that very day.

What did this young minister and his friends do? Exactly what Jesus did! They built relationships with “sinners.” May we go and do likewise.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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