The Hospital Approach

Brett Dood argues for new expectations—for the good of the church and for the people outside the church.

Date Posted: 
Monday, November 5, 2018

By Brett Dood

I was recently invited to a country club for lunch. When I arrived, I couldn’t help but notice the placard prominently placed on the front door: ​“Dress code strictly enforced.”​ Good thing I was dressed for the occasion! This reminded me of a story my friend shared. The church he grew up in was “very legalistic” (his words). Each Sunday, they would assign a person who stood at the door to check the congregation’s attire upon arrival. If they didn’t pass the “Sunday best” test, they were told to go home, change, and come back. I was shocked! “​How did that work out from an outreach standpoint​?” I asked. My friend replied, ​“Let’s put it like this … we didn’t have many visitors.”

Thankfully, stories like this are rare today, but many churches still operate with a skewed normalcy of who is welcome. Today’s criteria might not be as blatant, but the conditional welcome based on a spirit that checks for “X” in a person is still pervasive. Although the “X” differs from church to church and might not be verbalized, it is strictly enforced and trickles down throughout the congregation. “X” may be a particular valuing of culture, heritage, clothes, liturgy, or even a worship style. We tend to welcome those who align with our “X” while alienating those who do not, creating an environment where, as my friend said, visitors may be hard to find.

But what if the local church stopped trying to fill its building with only subscribers to their version of “X” and started adopting the ethos of a community hospital?

Here at Calvary, we have been wrestling with how we intentionally become more like a triage and trauma center rather than a local affinity club. The answer: expectations.

Our shift in expectations has veered from keeping people unified on a temporal “X” (culture, worship style, and service times) to keeping broken, busted-up people alive! We know when people are sick, little else matters. The sick want to meet the doctor because they know his or her hands heal; they’re not concerned with the peripherals such as the color of the hospital gown, what art is on the wall, or the music playing overhead.

Why then in our churches do we laser focus on the non-essentials that only seem to divide? Humanity’s greatest unifier lies in the fact we are all sick—sick with sin and living in the brokenness it brings. The prognosis would be grim except we know the healer, Jesus, who heals our diseases and binds up our brokenness. When the local church is united in its brokenness and need for the Great Physician’s touch, all find a welcome home.

If you want your church to have a greater impact on your community, start by asking honest questions. What is your current “X”—skin color, clothes, worship format? Because here’s the hard truth: one day, every affinity-based club will dwindle down until their affinity is no more, but the local hospital will always be full. Until the end of time, people will be sick and hurting and in need of healing. Jesus said, ​“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).

Brett Dood is lead pastor of Calvary Reformed Church in Ripon, California. This article originally appeared on the Far West Region’s blog. You can read it in its entirety at www.rcawest.org/blog.

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