The Church’s Search and Rescue Mission

The US Coast Guard is a well-respected branch of our military. It is also unique in that it has multiple missions and conducts other activities besides national defense during war. They are renowned for their search and rescue activities in our seas.

As I was meditating – reading, studying, and pondering the meaning of the parable of the lost sheep – it drew me to the idea of search and rescue. Photo by Neil Thomas on UnsplashIf you look at the whole series of parables in Luke 15 you will see that same theme in all of them. Something is lost and we seek it out to rescue it at great cost. It shows the great value that the lost sinner has in God’s eyes, whether they were straying or they have not become believers yet. The parable closes in verse 7 with “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The focus on the lost sheep is to rescue him, bring him to repentance, and gather him with the ninety-nine. You can’t do that unless you leave the flock and the pen and go find him wherever he may be.

The theme of the lost sheep and the good shepherd is found through much of the Bible. Ezekiel 34 talks about the shepherd who shirks his responsibility, yet God shepherds his sheep even when his appointed leaders do a poor job or become wicked and self-serving. Jeremiah 50 says “my people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray”. Psalm 23, one of the most recognized Psalms, is about the Lord as our Shepherd.

Charles Spurgeon has some excellent points regarding this parable that can instruct us on its meaning and why he was diligent in finding and rescuing the lost sheep. Here are a few quotes from his sermon:

  • He was not thinking of himself, his heart was set upon the lost ones, and therefore he went where the lost sheep were.
  • What will become of my sheep? Perhaps at this very moment a lion may be ready to spring upon it.
  • The parable refers to the unconverted, whom Jesus has redeemed with His most precious blood, and whom He has undertaken to seek and to save.
  • “If I lose one of them my shepherd work will be ill-done.” What dishonor it would be to a shepherd to lose one of his sheep!
  • I delight to think that I am sent to individuals with the message of mercy.

Through this we see the shepherd has a single, laser-focused purpose; to find the lost, unconverted sinner and bring him to repentance. It is his duty and honor to diligently pursue this aim. If he does not do this well, the sheep may face a treacherous fate of being devoured; led astray and lost, and without mercy. It’s urgent that we pursue this endeavor as fellow sheep and disciples of the Good Shepherd; even to the point of laying down our life, our comfort, and our own pursuits.

Let’s come back to the US Coast Guard. They have a clear mission for Search and Rescue, just like the church does. A portion of their budget, people, structure, process, and assets are all dedicated to the effort of rescuing the lost and endangered people in our waters. In fact, in 2017, 4228 lives were saved by these Coast Guard operations. If you look at how much they spend on saving the lost (in education, navigation aid, or search and rescue) it totals over $2.5 billion. That’s a lot per person! It’s worth it for every one of those individuals.

Yeah, but isn’t that a small amount of an enormous budget? The Coast Guard also engages in national defense and security, in law enforcement such as drug smuggling, and in maritime environmental protection. Yet, this $2.5 billion is almost one third of their overall $8.7 billion budget. In verse 4 of the parable, the shepherd “leaves the ninety-nine in the open country, and goes after the one that is lost, until he finds it.”  Often our church demonstrates that it doesn’t value the lost sheep as much as the ninety-nine. Our churches budget, structure, and assets are there to support multiple missions as well. How do we allocate what we receive from God for the worship of God, the care and protection of the ninety-nine, and the search and rescue effort of the lost sheep?

Photo by Pawan Sharma on UnsplashAs a church, or leaders of the church, we are not God and we don’t know who the lost sheep are among the wolves or goats, but we’re called to relentlessly pursue the lost sheep, turning over every stone until we find him. Encourage our leaders, the pastor, the elders, and all to reach the lost. It is not just the leaders’ responsibility though, it’s a responsibility of all believers. As disciples, Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go out and make more disciples. We often design our church’s structure and processes to operate by making things attractive so that the lost sheep will come in, rather than going out to pursue and rescue him. The Coast Guard doesn’t ask the lost to come in, fill out a request form, so that they can come to rescue them, their first response is to go.

How can you nurture that in your church? How can you put that into practice in your own life?

When the lost is found, when someone comes to repentance, do as the parable says in verse 6. Celebrate, rejoice together, for the lost is found!

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