In this series of posts, we are talking about the metaphors that are used for the church and examining them to see if they are the best metaphors to use- because our metaphors matter.
One metaphor I’ve heard repeated is that the church is like a hospital- a hospital for sinners. Once again, I understand what this metaphor is trying to express. This metaphor probably arises from Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17. There Jesus tells the religious leaders: “It is not those who are healthy that need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This metaphor shows that the church (and the Jesus that the church preaches) isn’t for people who are good and who have their life put together but for those who have problems, issues and who’s life is a mess. Hospitals are the place to go if you are very sick and need to get better. The church should be likewise.
The problem with this metaphor is that no-one wants to go to a hospital. Hospitals are quiet. Hospitals are sterile and clean. Hospitals are uncomfortable- both physically and emotionally. Hospitals are where all the problems are hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals are the place where people die and where you just want to get out as quickly as possible. The hospital metaphor also perpetuates the idea that the “doctors” (pastors, ministers, church leaders, other Christians) are different from the “patients” (the sinners, unchurched, those with messed up lives). It makes us think that pastors, ministers, church leaders and other Christians are the “cured,” and that they are there to prescribe the medicine- while never being sick themselves. In a hospital, the doctor and the patient are not equal and that idea can bleed over into the church.
The truth is that we were all sinners, we still suffer from sin, we are all in the life-long process of sanctification and we are traveling this life together trying to do our best to follow Jesus.
Maybe church is more like this:
Did you catch some of the phrases that were used in this video?
- “Everyone here is your teammate.”
- “That’s the name of the game: people helping people.”
- All you have to do is decide, deep down, that you’re going to finish.”
- “Challenges that foster teamwork and camaraderie- things that are fun.”
- “After this, you’re going to be a different person.”
I think those phrases could and should apply to the church and to our Christian lives as well. The church shouldn’t be a hospital where all the problems are shut behind closed doors and the professionals prescribe solutions. The church should be like a Tough Mudder. Church should be a place and Christianity a lifestyle where we help each other, push each other and get down in the mud with each other. Where we see challenges as obstacles to conquer- with the help of one another and through the power of Jesus Christ. And then, when we have conquered, we celebrate with each other, share our war stories, share about when we got knocked down but got back up again and how God remained faithful. That seems like more fun than a hospital.
So what is the church? Is it like a hospital or like a Tough Mudder?
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