By Tim Whistine
In Luke 2:49 Jesus contends He “must be about [His] Father’s business.” And what is this business Jesus is so passionate about? There is a knothole in the fence found in Luke 19:10 through which we get a peek at the answer. The highest priority of Jesus’ life was to seek and save the lost. This priority drove Him to the cross—not performing miracles, healing the sick and diseased, feeding the multitude, or raising the dead to life. These events served His higher purpose by persuading people that He was the promised Messiah (See John 20:30-31). By His example Jesus Christ taught that nothing is more important than saving souls and that every other activity or program must serve to accomplish this purpose. Losing sight of this purpose, or confusing it with lesser goals, will only serve to distract our focus or diminish our effectiveness.
It is easy to get sidetracked by lesser goals and driven by reckless ambition rather than be committed to the biblical model. One may be overly concerned with numbers and in the process be driven by ambition to set records, or be seen as the elite pace setter, hosting the next big event that is different from all others, etc., while neglecting the primary and fundamental focus of Christ’s purpose seeking and saving the lost. We must focus on our primary business.
For instance, an architect would not pour his passion into how tall he may design a building until he has first designed an adequate foundation. To do otherwise would prove disastrous. Bigger is not the architect’s fundamental focus though it may be his long-term goal. Number crunching is not the primary business of the church. At the most critical moment of His purpose Jesus Christ had less than stellar numbers to His credit as He hung on the cross. His focus on the fundamentals was not to be sidetracked by a numbers deficit. His business was the saving of souls. One cannot read the Bible and come away with any other conclusion than that Jesus Christ would have suffered the cruelty of crucifixion for one solitary soul. Though He poured out His blood to redeem every lost soul since Adam, He would have done it to save but one soul from an eternity in Hell. Numerical growth should be the long-term goal of any church. However, this goal should never sidetrack us from our fundamental focus seeking to save the one lost soul not entertaining a crowd. Bigger is not always synonymous with success. A church’s focus on being bigger may in fact place souls at risk of being lost if in the process it loses its focus on fundamentals.
The saving of the lost is achieved via preaching and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (See Acts 2, 8, 10; I Corinthians 1:21). There are many ways to declare the gospel such as singing, drama, puppets or clowns, etc. However, when the gospel of Christ doesn’t come through loud and clear during the choir song, the drama, the puppet show, or the clown act, one has to ask whether the focus was on entertaining the crowd or reaching the lost with the message that brings salvation? If our gospel is hidden, it is hidden from those in desperate need of hearing it (II Corinthians 4:3-6). No act or show, despite its apparent numerical success can justify failure when it comes to the sole fundamental of our business reaching the lost! The tempo and beat of the song, the smoke and light show are irrelevant and meaningless if the gospel of Christ is not explicitly and meaningfully communicated.
Consider with me, in the early 1900s, the White Star Steamship Company became obsessed with building the world’s largest transatlantic vessels. The two monster ships, the Olympic and the Titanic were near completion before a pier had been built in either England or America that could accommodate them. The cart was in front of the horse. Getting caught up in the idea of bigness, the White Star Steamship Company had neglected fundamentals. As history records, the shipbuilders made bigness and numbers their primary goal to the neglect of several fundamentals that would ultimately be the cause of over 1500 casualties at sea. Fundamentals are critical. Make no mistake about it, if a church neglects the fundamentals of its primary business, it will prove disastrous despite its size.
It has been said that the Titanic was built by an elitist group of imbeciles that led a generation to the slaughter (Spignesi, Stephen J. The Complete Titanic, Carol Publishing, 1998:15). How? The White Star Steamship Company focused on size and profits rather than the safety of their passengers and crew. In short, numbers and money became their primary business. In the process though, the fundamentals that would have guaranteed the safety or salvation of their passengers and crew, were grossly compromised. The result was that more people were lost than saved on the mammoth ship’s maiden voyage.
A review of the Titanic’s brief history reveals that the ship’s size required a certain number of safety boats on deck to accommodate the maximum number of its occupants. Titanic’s passenger capacity was 3000. The passenger capacity of one lifeboat on the Titanic was approximately 65 adults. If you do the simple math, the Titanic should have been carrying no less than 50 lifeboats. Instead, the ship’s owners opted for 20. It doesn’t tally out does it? Why did the ship’s owners depart so drastically from the fundamentals of safety? Prior to the building of the Olympic and Titanic, seafaring vessels were considerably smaller. Therefore the British Board of Trade only required a ship to carry a maximum of 20 lifeboats (which was adequate for the period preceding Titanic). Though the Titanic’s owners knew their ship was considerably larger than any of its predecessors for whom this standard was intended, the law was the law, and the law only required 20 lifeboats. The owner’s therefore chose to meet the minimum standard and used the space that would have been occupied by lifeboats for more cabin space to increase profits. Again, in their pursuit of bigness and numbers, the owners of the Titanic sacrificed the fundamentals of safety. This decision resulted in the loss of over 1500 lives that perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic in April of 1912. What a lesson for those who only choose to meet minimum standards!
Be assured there is nothing wrong with bigness or number crunching, unless you make it your primary business. How many people your building holds is secondary to how many souls will be saved. A large choir is secondary to how many people enter Heaven and escape the damnation of Hell. If the focus of the church is bigness and numbers to the neglect of fundamental teaching and preaching, the end result may be disastrous. Bigness is not the business of Christ’s church, but the saving of a soul is. The Titanic was in the business of accommodating and entertaining a crowd. It promised to safely transport its passengers and crew from England to New York. It was the unsinkable Titanic. It was inspiring—a symbol of man’s ability to create. Just over 2200 people were onboard the Titanic on the night of its ill-fated maiden voyage. Of that number, less than 800 survived. Because fundamentals were neglected, more people were lost than were saved.
Please don’t read this and think church growth and outreach are unimportant. Growth and numbers are important to any church’s goals. In fact, if a church is not growing and increasing in number it examine itself. However, there is a vast difference between genuine biblical growth and accommodating and entertaining a crowd. The former is accomplished by being committed to fundamentals. The latter will compromise or sacrifice fundamentals if necessary and meet minimum standards in order to appease the crowd. Fundamentals, like lifeboats, are essential if saving people is at issue. It has been said many times but its true, we either learn from history or repeat it. So, I ask you again, what business are you in?
The above article, “What Business Are We In?,” is written by Tim Whistine.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.