But there’s more to being a church than being nice. Here’s how one preacher describes a certain pastor’s realization that his was a “nice” church:
[The pastor] was pleased with the worship and the ministries of his church. Everything seemed to operate with care and good taste and competence. He had the right staff in place, and they all were able to find dedicated, trained volunteers to shape a marvelous network of programs.Nice is good. But nice is not the essence of the church. In other words, it’s not what makes the church “church.” The Greek word for church is ecclesia and means an “assembly.” The church is certainly an assembly, a gathering together of like-minded believers in Christ. But the word ecclesia comes from two other words that mean “called out.” The church is made up of those whom God has “called out” from the world and makes into a new people (see, e.g. Rom. 1:6; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 6:16-17; 1 Peter 2:9). The Holy Spirit “calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth” through the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments, and “keeps [the Church] with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” (Explanation to the Third Article, Luther’s Small Catechism)
Yet something didn’t sit right with him. In his words, it was a very, very nice church. And therein was the problem. It was a church that looked after itself so well that it had forgotten that it was under orders to be about the missionary business of the kingdom of heaven.
If people wanted wonderful worship, all they had to do was join the congregation on Sundays. If they wanted terrific children’s ministries and youth programs, all they had to do was drop their sons and daughters off at the right times. If anyone wanted a little diaconal assistance, just stop by the office and a secretary would arrange for a modest handout.
But the onus was on others to come and find the church. The congregation itself had little use for going out to search for the lost and the last and the least. It had given up being a net. It had lost its marching orders. It had gained the corner on “nice” but was losing the ability to call itself church. (from a sermon by Wayne Brouwer in the May/June 2008 issue of Preaching)
And Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is a like a net (Matt. 13:47). It’s not like a line with bait and hook with which all you salmon fishermen in these parts are most acquainted. Bait attracts fish, they bite it, are hooked, and are drawn into the boat. But the kingdom of heaven is not about attracting people with “bait” and getting them “hooked.” After all, spiritually dead “fish” (Eph. 2:1) don’t even have the power to swim toward the “bait.” Instead, like fishing with a net, the kingdom of heaven is about casting the Gospel out of the boat in order to catch people with the embrace of God’s mercy and grace and thereby draw them in.
Are we casting the Gospel out of the boat where others might hear it and be drawn into our ecclesia? Or are we keeping God’s kingdom to ourselves because we like our “nice” little church? Are we afraid of how our “nice” little church might change when new people are brought into our midst? God save us from being so “nice” that we are afraid to tell others about the best news the world has ever heard ... the only true, saving message about Jesus and his forgiving death in the place of sinners like you and me. God save us from being a church that looks after itself so well that we forget that we are under orders to be about the missionary business of the kingdom of heaven.