A “Hospital for Sinners”? (Re-thinking “Equipping” in the Church)

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“The Church is not a hotel for saints, it is a hospital for sinners”.

If you have spent any significant amount of time around a local church you have probably heard something like that before. The idea is pretty straightforward: The church is a place for broken people. A place where Gospel-induced, Holy Spirit empowered restoration takes place. It is not a place designed to make your stay more pleasant or comfortable. It is not a 5-star resort where pampering guests in luxurious opulence is the end-goal. The church is a place of spiritual triage, emergency surgeries and long-term rehabilitation for repenting and therefore, recovering sinners.

By and large, most of the American church has missed this critical distinction between “hotel” and “hospital”. Far too many churches design ministries with a “hotel-mindset”. Keep the clientele happy by making them as comfortable as possible and you can count of them coming back in the future. Of course, by creating a ministry philosophy with the aim of “making people as comfortable as possible” we are actually working against real spiritual growth. In the New Testament, comfort is often seen as a deterrent to true spiritual growth, not a catalyst for it.

In the New Testament, comfort is often seen as a deterrent to true spiritual growth, not a catalyst for it.

We know this from the Scriptures, but we can also see this from observing life in a fallen world. Comfort naturally breeds complacency. Over time, Christians who spend long amounts of time in these 5-star spiritual resorts, become seriously spiritually unhealthy. Many become spiritually malnourished by being deprived of deep biblical teaching and discipleship. It turns out, our felt needs are rarely our greatest needs.

No, the church is not a hotel for saints. It is a hospital for sinners. But even that needs a bit more clarification. I recently wrestled with this, while studying for a sermon I was to preach from Hebrews 13.

Hebrews 13:20 Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The word in v21 we translate into English as “equip” is what captured my attention. Often, I hear the word equip used to describe someone being trained or provided with adequate knowledge and resources to do their job well. In Christian contexts the word equip is used synonymously with “discipling”, and certainly a large part of discipleship is sharing knowledge and resources with fellow Christians. But there is far more to discipleship and this word we translate “equip” than mere information transfer and resourcing. This word we translate as “equip” in the Greek is καταρτίζω (kata-ritzo). The word means “to perfect, to mend, to restore, to heal”.

καταρτίζω (kata-ritzo). “to perfect, to mend, to restore, to heal”

In classical Greek, καταρτίζω, was used to describe the setting of a broken bone. To “equip” a fellow Christian means that we are not merely transferring information. To equip is to participate with God in the spiritual mending, healing and perfecting of a fellow sinner. And this kind of equipping can only take place within the grace-filled, covenant community of a local church. The church is a hospital for sinners, and therefore it is perfectly designed by God as a place where broken sinners like me, can be equipped and put back together again. The work is messy, but it is glorious.

To “equip” a fellow Christian means that we are not merely transferring information. To equip is to participate with God in the spiritual mending, healing and perfecting of a fellow sinner.

There is one catch however. The church is the only hospital in existence staffed by fellow patients. We are healed, in order to be used by God, to help others heal. As we pour out our lives to mend others something remarkable happens: We are mended too. All of us, are at various stages of recovery, but none of us are fully healed yet. That will have to wait for the age to come. In the meantime, the work is hard and feels unending. But it will end shortly.

The Great Physician is coming again to heal us all soon enough.

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