Jesus often used parables to teach complex spiritual ideas in a down to earth and easy to understand format. In this Mini Book I'd like to borrow this approach and share with you the "Parable of the Arrow"; a parable meant to compare arrows with churches. Arrows are an ancient and effective invention. In Genesis 27, Isaac told his son Esau to, "...take your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me". So arrows and bow hunting are among the earliest hunting tools of mankind.
Construct of arrows
Imagine the look and design of a hunting arrow. It is marvelously hand made, light, easy to carry, and simple in design.
- The tip is the business end of the arrow, razor sharp and deadly for an enemy or game. A good bow hunter can drop a 1,000 pound animal with just one arrow if he has to.
- The shaft of the arrow gives it weight and piercing power. It's the tip that comes into contact with the target but the weight of the shaft is what gives the arrow its force to penetrate. Shafts can be made of wood like cedar, but modern shafts use aluminum or graphite.
- Then there is the "fletching", referring to the group of feathers at the back end of the arrow, just before the notch or nock where the arrow is inserted into the bowstring. These feathers (today plastic) are extremely important because they give the arrow its spin and roll, and keep it on target. When an arrow is released the shaft begins to "flex". The fletching or feathers help the arrow to stop this motion and send it into a "spinning" motion so it will go straight sooner, and thus travel further and truer to its target. Without the spinning motion provided by the feathers, the arrow would go wildly in any direction.
In order for the bow hunter to be successful he must use arrows that fly straight and true. This requires that each have:
- A hard and sharp tip.
- A strong and smooth shaft.
- Properly positioned fletching.
Arrows and the church
The church can be compared to an arrow and how it functions.
- Preachers, teachers, deacons, ministry leaders, missionaries, support staff - these are the business end of the church, like the tip of the arrow. They are the qualified and specially trained and commissioned leaders in the work of establishing and building up the church in this world.
- The congregation of the saints provides strength, support, and resources to carry on this effort. The saints are like the shaft - they supply the weight, the power to drive home the spiritual warhead towards its target of a dark and lost world so that there will be an explosion of light. Arrows cause death when they hit. The church causes life when it hits.
- The elders are the fletching or feathers. They provide balance, direction, and stability for the entire mission.
Like an arrow, the church is pretty effective when all of its parts are in their proper place and in good condition.
Arrows that don't fly
Now the thing about arrows is that they are not very forgiving. If everything is not "just right", they don't work. Bow hunters tell me that a good man with a bow might make a bad arrow fly, but they usually have to be just right to work properly. For example:
- An arrow with no tip could fly far, travel straight and true, but once it hit the target wouldn't do anything.
- Or if an arrow had a tip and fletching but its shaft was too short, the tip would be deadly but with a shaft this short you couldn't send it very far or fast using a conventional bow.
- How about an arrow with a tip and shaft but feathers that are damaged, or worse still, missing? This arrow is dangerous because it has no stability or accuracy.
If arrows don't have all of their parts intact and properly positioned, they're still arrows, but they are arrows that don't fly. They are not effective as arrows, and can be dangerous!
Churches that don't fly
This is how arrows compare with churches; a church needs all of its parts working if it is going to be effective. For example:
- The business end of the church needs to be taking care of business. Preachers, deacons, and others who lead in ministry have to remain focused on their jobs and remain sharp and dedicated in order to be effective. Those who are paid to minister need to be at the very head of our corporate effort. They are right on the sharp point. They need to be first to see new possibilities, new objectives, new horizons, and fields of harvest that are yet touched. When we criticize them for this forward looking, it's like being upset that the arrowhead is first to make contact with the target instead of the shaft or the feathers. Heaven help a church whose ministry leaders have less vision and faith than the rest of the congregation.
- The congregation in general needs to support the work of ministry. Not everyone has a role of leadership in ministry, not everyone is paid to minister, but everyone ministers and serves in some way. The congregation is like the shaft of the arrow. It is the largest part. It provides support and power to drive the arrowhead to its target. We need members to do their part in cooperating and supporting the overall work of ministry in this church. Every time one member quits or doesn't do what they can do to help and encourage the work of the church, we become less and less able to function. It's like shortening the shaft of an arrow. Imagine an arrow with half of its shaft missing; it's still an arrow, but it won't travel very far or do much damage. In the same way churches that have ministry leaders working away with little involvement or support from the congregation are still churches, but they're not very effective in accomplishing their mission of evangelizing their communities and the world.
- Finally, for the church to be true to its calling and remain faithful to the Lord, it must have good shepherds. Shepherds or elders must lead with Godly character, example, and involvement. If they don't, the entire church becomes discouraged and out of balance. Any bow hunter will tell you that feathers that are frayed or missing will seriously detract from the accuracy of his shot. The arrow may hit something eventually, but without all the feathers in place and properly positioned you'll be telling stories of the one you missed instead of eating deer steak back home. Just like the fletching on an arrow, the lesson for leaders is that it doesn't take much misalignment or neglect on their part to throw off the entire body from front to back. What elders and their families do, or neglect to do, and how they do it has a direct effect on every member of the congregation.
Jesus used to say to those who listened to His parables, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear" Luke 14:35. What He meant was, if you understand what I am teaching, what the parable means - then do what it says or heed its warning. It was the Lord's way of calling upon his audience for a response. Well, I'd like to finish this little "Parable of the Arrow" with the same call. Those who understand that what I'm saying applies to them in some way - pay attention because I'm saying it for a reason:
- Let's not allow the business end of the church arrow to get dull and distracted. Remember why and for whom you serve when you become discouraged.
- Let's not allow the shaft part of the congregation to become too short to carry the burden of the work the ministers have committed the church to.
- Let's make sure that none of the feathers are missing in action or get a little too frayed and worn to be very effective.