Hospital for Sinners

The Church is a hospital, not a museum of saints.

I often talk about the church being either a country club or a hospital. It appears that metaphor may have a very rich history. After doing some research, some attribute this saying to several possible sources including St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. The metaphor is a good one and is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 2:17, where he says, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

What would you think if you saw someone at the country club on a gurney with an IV in their arm? You would immediately conclude they have the wrong address. They belong at the hospital. I wonder how many people show up in our churches on a given Sunday thinking they are coming to a place of care and healing only to discover that they have the wrong address and are instead at the country club. A country club is where socially, well-adjusted people gather to chit chat and take a break from the cares of the world. You don’t go there if you are deathly ill or your arm is broken.

Jakob Dylan, front man of The Wallflowers penned these words in a song entitled, “Hospital for Sinners.”

Some have crosses bells that ring
Most have angels painted with wings
Old men and blind ones can find their way in
Got statues and apostles and other godly things
In desserts they build them of mortar and clay
In barrios they stick them by fire escapes
They outlast the setbacks of earthquakes and plagues
They burn them like haystacks and another one is raised

In the backwoods of the country and the empire state
Wherever there's somebody at the crossroads that waits
At the junction of right now and a little too late
You'll see one before you with wide open gates
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

There could be a casket, bums on the steps
A baby in a basket being left
It's a good place to shuffle when you've gone through the deck
It's the closest to heaven on earth you can get

It's a shelter a poor man it'll humble a great
It's where derelicts and outlaws can hide for a day
The worst hearts you've known can be salvaged and saved
In the same room that lovers' vows are exchanged
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

You'll sin till you drop
Then ask to be saved
If it's a comeback you want
Then get your hands raised

There's more than a few on nearly every map
More than a couple alone on this path
You ought to be in one when you beg your way back
Cut off at the knees at its feet you'll collapse
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

If you were to take a straw poll of visitors to your church, how do you think they would describe their experience? I don’t know about you, but a hospital describes just the kind of church that I need.



Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.