The Legend of Townsville – A Parable for the Modern Church

townsville

Once upon a time, there was a little city named Townsville.

Townsville had everything you would expect from a pretty little town—a police station, a fire station, and even a little urgent care center.

At the police station, the officers were some of the nicest people you would ever meet! They were courteous, friendly, and polite. They also had high standards. When they did paperwork, every “i” was dotted and every “t” was crossed. In fact, believe it or not, in Townsville, occasionally a criminal would walk right into the police station and admit their guilt! As one would expect from the Townsville police force, they would see to it that the full extent of the law was applied–getting the criminals into the judicial system as promptly as possible.

At the urgent care center, they had some sharp paramedics! They had pristine uniforms and all the latest medical technology. These were the type of EMTs that when the local school called them out for a visit, all the lady teachers would get dressed up and put on their make-up. The EMTs of Townsville were, frankly, top-notch. The urgent care center was regularly abuzz with patients who would come in with various conditions for help. They were always treated promptly, and often even for free.

Even the local fire station looked sharp–it always looked like it had a fresh coat of paint, and the hedges were always perfectly trimmed. All the fire fighters were volunteers, so they didn’t get over-worked. They would often sharpen each other by competing to see who could put all their rescue gear on fastest–some had even worked their way down to ten seconds, which was just unheard of! The worst thing that ever happened to them was that their stove once caught on fire. No sooner had the smoke alarm chirped than the fire was out. These guys really knew what they were doing!

One day, the Governor came to Townsville with all the pomp and circumstance that the Governor deserves. He was seated on a high chair on the back of his limousine–much like Grandma Moses from the Beverly Hillbillies. Flags were waving, and a marching band led the procession.

Sounds like a beautiful story, doesn’t it?

But upon the Governor’s arrival, he found Townsville in total disarray! There were riots in the streets. Half the buildings were burnt down or still in flames. Sick and dying people were lining the sidewalks.

“Who’s responsible for this?” bellowed the Governor.

In no time at all, he had launched a full-scale investigation of what went wrong in Townsville. Why was the city in such shambles? On paper, it looked like the perfect town! But as it turns out, the investigators discovered that none of the three public safety agencies were answering the phone calls from Central Dispatch.

The police officers knew their stuff and loved doing paperwork; but they waited for the criminals to turn themselves in. None of them were ever out on the streets enforcing the law or providing an official presence throughout the city.

The EMTs had all the latest technology and really looked good; but they waited for the sick and dying to come to them. They had compassion on those who came–often rendering their services for free. But none of them were out on the streets answering the cries of the perishing.

And the fire fighters loved taking good care of their building. They had a heart for service–not even being paid for their time. But they merely took care of their own fire house while much of the city burned down around them.

Many times as Christians, we find ourselves working one of the public safety agencies of Townsville. Like the police officers, some of us in the church often become bogged down with paperwork, projects, and programs that only benefit the people who come to us. Like the EMTs, we’re often very good at responding to the hurting people who come to us–but what about those who don’t want to set foot in our buildings because they’re afraid of what it will cost them? And like the fire fighters, we take good care of our buildings and sharpen each other in the skills and talents that make us look effective; yet we let our city burn down around us.

It’s not that we’re afraid of fire–those fire fighters put out the fire on the stove rather fast. It’s not that we’re afraid of the sick and dying–the EMT’s were happy to help anyone who came into their emergency room. And it’s not that we don’t understand the law and the consequences that come with it–the police officers were happy to apply the full-extent of the Judicial System whenever a criminal turned himself or herself in.

Our biggest problem is that we so seldom answer the call of Central Dispatch. Sure, our churches have outreaches and such for us to participate in, but often our involvement is simply based on the fact that we see a need or have an interest. How often do we get involved in response to our personal relationship with God Himself?

Just like police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs, we need to get out into the streets. It’s not that our work in the building is evil–actually it’s necessary. But the full expression of our role in society is only realized when we’re doing our job among the general population. 

Maybe you’re called to be like a police officer–trying to establish and maintain peace through proper application of God’s Law, justice, and mercy. “Blessed are the peacemakers!” Get out into the world and establish peace where there is no peace!

James 3:18–Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (NIV).

Matthew 23:23–“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (NIV). 

Or perhaps you’re called to be like the EMTs—answering cries for help and providing care in homes and businesses. Let’s flood the streets with the people of God—reaching out to those who need healing most!

Mark 2:17–On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (NIV). 

Or maybe you have the heart of a fire fighter–running into the fires of hell that are holding people captive and rushing people to safety. Race to the rescue of those who are trapped and perishing!

Jude 1:22-23–Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear–hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (NIV, emphasis added). 

Matthew 16:18b–…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [My Church] (KJV). 

As you enjoyed the opening few paragraphs, did the thought ever cross your mind that “This sounds like the perfect little town”? Of course it seemed that way! As long as the focus is on everything that’s going on inside the buildings, no one is concerned about the condition of the city outside.

As Christians, we can’t afford to be so introspective that we think we’re doing well simply because everything’s running smoothly inside our buildings. We lock our spiritual gifts and divine callings away in a sterile environment where the only needy people we encounter are the ones who come to us. There’s a lost and dying world out there–hopelessly trapped in sin. Our culture is falling apart. Our friends and families are plummeting into utter darkness as we sit in our pretty little firehouses, trying only to save ourselves from little flames on the stove.

Central Dispatch gives us orders in two ways: (1) Policies and (2) Missions. The Policies are found in the Scripture.  We have a timeless commission to “God into all the world and make disciples.” You don’t need special instructions to obey this command.  Missions, on the other hand, are specific, Spirit-led opportunities that would otherwise be overlooked in the everyday experience of life if not for one’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.  We must learn to tune our ears to Him.

Whatever the case, if God calls you, He will empower you…and He has indeed called you, so expect to be empowered!

Don’t let paperwork, technology, looks, or programs distract you. Our city is in disarray!

Who is responsible for this?

Our Governor wants an answer.

You are that answer.

God bless!
–Art–

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