During my holiday I really loved reading a book called “Deep and Wide”, written by Andy Stanley, the pastor of North Point Church in Atlanta, USA. Firstly, I thought, that’s a great title. How come nobody ever thought of writing a book with that title before? Immediately you think of the old chorus
Deep and wide,
Deep and wide
There’ s a fountain flowing deep and wide (altogether now)
But this isn't about the love of God depicted as a fountain – this is a book about church. And I love books about church. Because I love church. It’s my life and I owe church an awful lot. Had I not found a good church after I became a follower of Jesus I don’t know where I would be today. Had my children not been part of church life, they would be far, far worse off today. Trust me, despite all the problems and all the bad church experiences, you are better off being with a good group of God’s people and enjoying the life of community together. It’s what you were designed for.
But like churches themselves, not all books about churches are good. In fact some books about church and some churches are just terrible. But this is a good book about church – how can we become deep and wide at the same time. That’s the theme, based on Stanley’s own experience of creating a group of churches like that. The suspicion is that if a church takes people deep then it cant be wide and it will die; and if a church goes wide, to do everything possible to bring in unchurched and unsaved people, then nobody ever goes deep and grows mature. No, No, says Stanley, both are possible and he teaches ways of doing that in this book.
I was challenged to think of the changing culture where vast swathes of people have no or little contact with church. The numbers are increasing. The current generation has largely abandoned the faith of its grandparents and its parents. Often the reason for that is because the church culture itself alienates people – the church gets in the way of the message. The medium contradicts the very message it is supposed to articulate. Church gets in the way of Christ. The model hinders the mission. Does that matter? Of course it does. I have seen people get passionate and steamed up about all sorts of trivial church things, yet care nothing for those on their way to a lost eternity. And if that continues, then one day all the doors in every church will be closed permanently, the secularists will have won and the devil will laugh.
Argue it how you will, this cannot be a good thing. A message which is for everybody should not exclude anybody. But making that happen is not easy. It takes courage and new thinking and an awareness by every member of every church that church is not primarily for them – its for the lost, the outsider, the stranger in our gates, the lonely and the hurting. Why? Because there really is a ’fountain flowing deep and wide’ and the church should encourage all and deter none, “to plunge right in and lose their sin”.