Does the Colonel have something we don't have?

"If God is at work week by week raising men from the dead, there will always be people coming to see how it is done. You cannot find an empty church that has conversion for its leading feature.

"Do you want to know how to fill empty chapels? Here is the answer: Get your Lazarus."

-Samuel Chadwick, Methodist evangelist and educator (1860-1932)

Luke 14:12-24

Week 12 (March)

Both our children, Matthew and Rachele, were asking about food. I looked at my watch. It was about noon. Just ahead on the right I saw the familiar red-and-white roof of a Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. So we stopped there.

As we sat eating at a table inside, I found myself reading the end of the cardboard box our chicken had come in. "Colonel Sanders has 5,000 restaurants," it said. Five thousand? Why, we Nazarenes have that many churches in the U.S. Yet, I wondered: Is the Church of the Nazarene as well known as the Colonel's chicken?

There are, of course, all kinds of valid reasons for Colonel Sanders' company being able to fill up his restaurants. Those reasons include a distinctive product, an aggressive marketing strategy, an ability to meet a felt need and well-placed, highly visible facilities.

There's no reason why the Church of the Nazarene shouldn't be as well known as the Colonel. In fact, in the parable of the great feast in Luke 14, Jesus seems to be saying to us that we, as His servants, ought to be possessed with an urgency and act with a persuasiveness that far exceeds anything this world has ever seen.

The passionate wish of the Master is to have an absolutely full house. In Jesus' parable, the nobleman told his servants to keep searching and persuading until his banquet hall was completely filled. If those who were invited first did not respond, they were to keep looking until they found enough people who would respond.

From this parable, we can conclude that it grieves Jesus even more than us to see empty pews in church sanctuaries. Sometimes I'm not sure it really grieves us at all. For example, not long ago the Sunday school leader in a small American church said to me: "Well, the people in this town know the church is here. They can come if they want to. They know the doors are open."

Sadly, it appeared that the hearing of a thousand excuses and being discouraged over and over again by people refusing to admit their spiritual needs had caused that little church to retreat from its commitment to fulfilling this command of Christ.

How tragic! Jesus said we must be prepared to compel. And in fact, some pressure may be needed to overcome the incredulity of people as to our invitation being meant seriously. The poor and the disadvantaged and the minorities may be especially wary of our attempts to win them. But Jesus said: "Compel them!"

After we'd been in Florence, Italy a couple of years, we put up a new sign in front of the church building. In addition to giving a schedule of services, we added the phrase, "Ingresso Libero" (literally free entry, but really meaning Everyone Welcome).

A few weeks later I was doing some door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood. At one door a young woman said, "I walked past your church the other day and noticed your new sign. I didn't realize outsiders were welcome in your meetings. I'd like to come visit someday."

That evening I wondered to myself how many others in the neighborhood thought that the "banquets" inside our little building were closed to outsiders. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me get on with the "compelling" in the Peretola/Piazza Puccini neighborhoods of Florence, Italy. [ Missionary stories from Italy ]

Why has the Colonel been able to make such an impact on the United States with 5,000 restaurants? Does he have something going for him that we don't have? I don't think so. Maybe it's just that we have not been doing enough compelling.

I wrote these devotional thoughts while we were missionaries in Italy. They originally appeared in the March 23, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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