The first parable Jesus shares in Luke 15 presents a formidable challenge to churches. There, Jesus tells of one sheep that has wandered from a fold of one hundred. Compare that with those presently not in church on any given Sunday, which David Olsen suggested in his 2008 book “The American Church in Crisis” was eighty-two out of every one hundred Americans. Certainly, the shepherd’s priority with just one percent of his flock missing would be intensified if eighty percent of his flock was wandering.
That priority is finding the lost sheep. Jesus says the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the open country and searches for the one until he finds it. The mission is not just to preserve, protect and maintain the remaining ninety-nine, but rather to pursue the lost one. Likewise, the mission of any church involves more than caring for the flock we have; it must include seeking out the lost ones Jesus loves.
The catch is the lost sheep are “out there,” not in the family with us. We must honor God’s call to intentionally extend His “seeking love” into the lives of people in our workplaces, schools and communities. Consider the punch line of Jesus’ parable: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15.7 NIV). It is not that faithful Christians are worthless to God. Rather, it is that we who know Jesus are already in his care, while the wandering ones are in jeopardy of being lost forever. Let’s pray that we might join God’s mission to intentionally engage people outside our church circles with relationally focused love and hope in Christ, reflecting the passion of our Good Shepherd, who “…does not want any to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3.9 NLT).