One of my all-time favorite TV programs is The Andy Griffith Show. Almost everyone, at one time or another, has watched and wondered what was going to happen next as Andy patiently tries to help Barney Fife out of one mess after another.
Barney was a great guy with a real desire to uphold the law and was very proud of his police-issued gun. But he was so inept that Andy would only allow him to carry around one bullet at a time.
I grew up out in the country around Waycross, Georgia, right next to neighbors who shot their guns just like Barney. The neighbors on either side of our home were older gentlemen in their 80s. Though they were good neighbors, of much concern to us were the two great identifying characteristics of both men: They both had poor eyesight, and they both loved to shoot their shotguns.
The neighbor who lived on the south side of our property was named Mr. Word. Mr. Word had a great dislike for dogs because he had chickens. One day our dog got out of our fence, ran into Mr. Word's yard and started chasing his chickens. My brothers and I were standing in our backyard and saw Mr. Word grab his shotgun. We weren't too worried because of Mr. Word's aforementioned poor eyesight. We watched as he shouldered his gun, took aim and fired.
The little dog scampered away, frightened by the sound, but untouched by any shotgun pellets. (Barney Fife would have been proud.) Then we saw our elderly neighbor come down off of his back porch and walk toward his clothesline--the same clothesline that had stood between him and our little dog when he had shot toward him.
It was only when Mr. Word reached the clothesline and inspected the garments hanging on it that we realized he had inadvertently shot his own underwear hanging on the line.
Missing the mark. What a terrible thing to shoot at a target and instead shoot a hole in your underwear! But we have done that in the church--we aim for one thing and hit another.
In our hearts we may aim the ministry at reaching the lost, but our "bullets" just end up reaching other Christians. The result may be that our church attendance increases a bit, and to the untrained eye and heart it seems real growth has taken place.
Our fishing for men has attracted some, but they end up being fish that had been previously caught. It's kind of like what I learned early on, fishing around south Georgia: taking fish off of another fisherman's stringer is not the same thing as fishing.
We may start out with a heart to reach the lost. However, as the years go by, we can gradually slip away from our love for the lost, endeavoring to attract those "prefabricated" Christians out there. Such are the ones who look like they have no real character flaws, only dynamic giftings with which to bless our church.
Getting back on track. How do we know if we have begun to seek the saved more than the lost? I suggest we should begin with examining our advertising. Read your ad in the phone book. Read it as a lost person would read it and see if it makes sense to you in that light.
Ask yourself: When it speaks of the ministries offered, does it target unsaved people who may be seeking the Lord, people who were not raised in church? Or does your ad use terminology that only a churched person would identify with?
What about the bulletin or guest packet you hand out to visitors? Will a visiting unsaved person be able to see you are interested in him, or will he think you need a translator just to understand what is written?
May God give us all creative ways to direct our focus toward unchurched, unsaved people who desperately need Jesus. May He help us shoot our bullets in such a way that we have more than just the choir to preach to next Sunday. Instead, may all our churches overflow with lost people seeking God.
Lee Barnes is the pastor of Southland Church in Valdosta, Georgia.