Growing up on the Gulf Coast, I have always loved water. My childhood was full of visits to beaches, bays, rivers and creeks. My grandfather’s catfish pond was within walking distance from my home, so as you can imagine, I’ve spent considerable time with fish and water! This early passion of mine led to my family having an aquarium in our house. As a young care taker of an aquarium, I learned a great deal about what this little glass enclosed environment should be, and how to create it and protect it.
Today, as an adult and pastor, I find that too many churches have become aquariums. Here’s the way this often works. The pastor and leaders of the church become the aquarium caretakers. They make sure the fish they allow into the tank are for the most part quite similar. The last thing you want to do is rock the boat!! The next thing to pay careful attention to is the environment for the fish. The rocks, plastic trees, water temperature……..it must be perfect for the fish in the tank. The caretaker must also learn to feed the fish exactly the way the desire to be fed. The type, frequency, and amount of food are all key factors that must be kept in mind. All of this effort and attention is given to taking care of the fish already in the tank.
As I read and seek to obey God’s Word, it becomes clear to me that CHURCH IS NOT AN AQUARIUM. God never intended our churches to become comfy environments for the found to the exclusion of those who are still lost. Jesus said in Matthew 4:19 that we should FOLLOW Him and He would make us fish for PEOPLE. I couldn’t agree more with Pastor Andy Stanley’s recent book that the mission of the church must be both deep and wide. The problem is that many churches take the easy road to turn completely inward and forget the other half of the mission which is to reach those far from God.
I think we should break down the glass walls of our aquariums and become churches where found people can grow deeper while lost people can be found. It’s the tension I believe we are called to live in as the body of Christ. We must allow fish in that are different……the diversity will only enrich the beauty of our local bodies. While the anchor of our churches must be Jesus and His Word as we guard our theology and doctrines, we must be more open to diverse methodologies and expressions within. Very simply, we must grow and go. Aquariums are great for growing fish but terrible for “going” fish. That’s why the church is NOT an aquarium.