Friday, March 5, 2010

A Parable Inverted

One is such an important number.

True or false? A proposal to make German the official language of the United States of America was defeated in Congress by one vote! If you said "true" you are almost correct. Here's the story. In response to a request from a group of German-Americans from Augusta, Virginia, a House committee recommended publishing 3,000 sets of laws in German and distributing them to the states (with copies of statutes printed in English as well). The House debated this proposal without reaching a decision, and a vote to adjourn and consider the recommendation at a later date was defeated by one vote, 42 to 41. There was no vote on the actual bill, just the vote on whether or not to adjourn. Because the motion to adjourn did not pass, the matter was dropped. If they had considered the bill later, would they have voted to publish in German? Probably not. The House, a month later, debated a similar issue and decided to publish only in English. But the legend persists to this day that the German missed becoming the official language of the US by one vote.

There's no denying that one was an important number to Jesus. He told a parable about the importance of one, three parables in fact, all found in Luke 15. A shepherd had one lost sheep, a woman lost one coin, a father had one wayward son. The shepherd left ninety-nine sheep in the fold and risked everything to find his one lost sheep. The woman turned her house upside down trying to find her one missing coin. The father abandoned decorum and protocol to welcome back his one wayward son. These parables show us God's heart for the lost, his willingness to do whatever was necessary to bring one more person into a relationship with him.

Last week our staff went away for 3 days to begin trying to "think different(ly)" about UBA and to ask what our responsibility was to our churches. [see my January 2010 blog] We are not interested in thinking different just to be different. We recognize there is a significant gap between what God wants and what is going on in our churches and in the world.

We didn't just talk about things. We sought God. We prayed. We read Scripture. We listened to God and shared with one another what God was saying to us. And there was amazing, amazing clarity and consistency in our conversation.

One of the things we discussed was the parable of the lost sheep. The good shepherd left 99 sheep in the fold to focus all his attention on rescuing one lone, lost sheep. Rescuing the one lost sheep became his priority! He risked everything to rescue that sheep.

Then we looked at the way the church (not any specific church, but churches as a whole) does things. What did we observe? We've inverted the parable. We focus our attention on the sheep in the fold, not on the lost sheep that need to be rescued.

We may say lostness is a priority, but what do the records say? In 1999, with 489 churches, UBA churches baptized 9,596 people. In 2009, with 599 churches and with 583,771 more people living in Harris County, we baptized only 9,595 people. With 110 more churches and almost 600,000 more people living around us, we baptized the same number of people. You tell me, is lostness really our priority?

I wonder what would happen if the association, UBA or any association, saw as it's primary purpose to mobilize churches to take on lostness - intentionally and persistently.

We're just one association, but if we did, maybe others would follow.

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