Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Is the church too inwardly focused? If you're talking about members being selfish, petty, comfort oriented, steeped in tradition, theologically shallow, and managing mole-hills - yes! If you're talking about our tendency to fuss and fight over preferences and treat the assembly as our most important activity - yes! If you're referring to the history of smugness, exclusiveness, proof-texting, and labeling others and one another - yes! If the subject is protectionism, isolationism, and legalism - well - yes! Is it the reason why we aren't spreading the Gospel more and converting more people to the cause of Christ? Yes - or no - depending on how you are using the terms "inward focus". Let me explain.
No one will stand before God on the day of Judgement and be condemned because their congregation didn't have an effective outreach program. The bible is clear, "each one of us must give account of himself" to God. The biblical concept (and purpose) of the church has been so blurred by institutionalizing it that we can't and don't recognize what the church really is anymore. Every "called out" individual is the church! Is outreach the responsibility of "the church"- assembled or the church - individuals? I just read another article from a church growth magazine dogmatically declaring the church's mission was to reach the people in our community! Because we have an institutional or temple paradigm of "church" we keep defining our purpose institutionally. Why did God command Christians to form a "body" or "a family" or be "the bride of Christ"? We can't do "one another" stuff unless we are with "one another." Are the "one another" things inward focus things? Which "one another" passage includes outreach? Jesus gave one identifying characteristic for his church that would show the world that we were his disciples - love one another. People will see it (or should), and realize they need it, and be attracted to it. Worked in Acts 2 (47)!
I can hear the screams already. Are you saying that the church is not supposed to have an outreach program?!!! It's a great idea to organize and be good stewards of our time and effort, but where's the hint that it's the purpose of the church (assembled)? It is the purpose of the church, that is every called out person, to share, witness, be ready to give answer to anyone who asks, and be living epistles of God! How many successful outreach ministries or programs have you seen a church put together? Why don't they last? Why are so few members part of it?
This is a blog not a book, so here's the bottom line. The purpose of Christians getting together (i.e. church assembled) is to build relationships that bring us into a deeper relationship with Jesus! We've spent so many years converting people to CHURCH that people don't know Jesus, and you can't give away what you don't have! Church togetherness is a tool not the focus! When we encourage one another (Heb.10:25-25), and when leaders equip members for maturity and closeness to Jesus (Eph.4:11-16), we go forth to "tell our story" (witness) every time God gives us the opportunity. The Christian assembly was never meant to be (and never was in the NT) an outreach event! When done right - focusing on family needs (yes, inward focus) - it should cause outreach. You don't win games at the pep-rally, but you can fire up the participants to play harder and represent who they play for.
So yes, we better be inward focused in bring each other closer to Jesus. Without Him, there's nothing to be outwardly focused about. The problem is not the inward focus, but the inward focus on the wrong things - doing "church" instead of knowing Jesus.