I often challenge pastors and Christian leaders to think of a local church as a “life-saving station.” I recently met with Christian leaders and spoke about “rescue.”
I began by sharing the strategy of the former United States Life-Saving Service. I explained that they were heroes in every sense of the word. When a ship was in distress near their assigned area, they’d go out into the surf, or the storm, even the hurricane to try to rescue the people on board. They lived their motto: “You have to go out. You don’t have to come back.” They saved countless lives who otherwise would have been lost.
Does this describe your church? Is spiritual rescue part of the foundational DNA of your church and life?
I described the world we live in today, filled with lost people. In fact, there are more lost people alive today than at any other point in human history.
The bad news is, “Lost people have never known less about Jesus, or have been farther from Jesus.” There is so much hurt, pain and suffering because of sin in this world.
The good news is, what has made people so lost, has made them so ready for Jesus.
Breakthroughs begin when the central passion of Jesus’ heart becomes the central passion of ours: rescue. The mission statement of Jesus is found in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Here are five imperatives for a life-saving church. These five imperatives are modeled by Jesus in John 4, where Jesus met the woman at the well.
1. Go to Them.
To reach lost people today, we must meet them on their turf. Hold outreaches on neutral ground, like the park, the community center, an outdoor basketball court or a living room; not at your church.
Don’t do what is comfortable for you, but what will be familiar to the people you are seeking to rescue.
Another way to “go to them” is to reach lost people in their tribe. Examples of tribes include: parents, moms, business leaders, students and golfers.
Who is another teacher most likely to listen to about Jesus? Answer: Another teacher. The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
2. Speak Their Language.
We can’t just transmit the gospel—we need to translate it. We must communicate the gospel to lost people in words they understand.
It is important to avoid using “Christianese” words like sin, repent, born again, savior or even believe. Rather, explain these words in ways that anyone can understand.
3. Lead With Their Need.
When it comes to rescue, we cannot start with the disease of “sin.” Most lost people today don’t care about sin. But they do care about symptoms, including loneliness, meaninglessness, stress, pain from my past, security and life being out of control.
To rescue lost people, we need to start with the symptom they can see (loneliness, etc.), then explain the disease that they can’t see (sin) and then show how Jesus offers the cure, by having paid for that sin on his cross.
4. Stick to Jesus.
We can’t afford to get sidetracked with discussions about religion or politics. Jesus offered this two word simple invitation: “Follow Me!”
Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
5. Mobilize the Rescuers.
Who is in the best position to reach a lost person for Jesus? It is the everyday believer—not the Christian professional. Why? Because the everyday believer has the relationship and trust. Today this is more important than ever.
To be an effective life-saving station, every church must help motivate and equip their people to get in the rescue. Help them know how to share their “Jesus Hope Story,” about the difference Jesus makes. Equip them with a “burden with a name.”
The program of God for the rescue work of God is the people of God. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The church you’re in, the ministry you’re in—is it committed to saving lives on the stretch of the beach around you, or just feeding and comforting the life-saving crew? If your ministry, your church, your Bible study isn’t about rescuing those who will die otherwise, you may need to do a quick heart exam. Do you have the heart of your Savior who said his reason for coming was to seek and to rescue the lost?
An 1883 Life-Saving Service report to Congress displayed a photo of a life-saving crew and it asked the question, “Why would a group of ordinary men risk everything?” The answer explains why you and I must take whatever risks are necessary to help people we know be in heaven with us: “That others might live.”