Wednesday, August 19, 2015

No Church's Hope Lies Inside Its Walls!

I'm no expert in anything.  However, I do have about four decades of church experience: serving in and through them, being employed by them, leading them, coaching them, and observing them.  This includes everything from churches with a dozen in weekly attendance to those with hundreds attending each week.  I probably haven't learned much, but there's one thing I can say for church's hope for a fruitful future lies within its walls.  I mean both the literal walls of a church facility or campus and the figurative containment of the people, the leadership, the systems, the traditions, and the processes that define any particular congregation.

I'm not saying that churches do not have great pastors and leaders, faithful congregants, good worship, and impacting ministries.  That's not the point.  I am saying that if a church believes a secure and successful future will come from all just those people and just that stuff that is "within", that church will certainly die.

There is a tendency within congregations to believe that once they get their internal act together, once the people within the walls are happy and motivated, once the internal organization is perfected, and once ministries to those on the inside are at their peak, then and only then will the church move outside its walls, engage its mission field, evangelize the lost, meet unmet human need, and get about the business of transforming the world for Jesus Christ.  Declining churches express this with proposed internal solutions typical of declining churches:  tighten up the budget, get the perfect pastor, get the pastor to do more visitation, bring the inactive members back in, get a dynamic youth or children's leader because "we need young people again," make worship like it used to be when the church was full, etc.   Growing churches as well have their way of focusing on perfecting the internal stuff before taking the next growth step:  get the structure right, fix "the communication problem", pin down the discipleship process, corral the directors who are "big spenders" with the budget, solve the "traditional/contemporary" worship tension, etc.  Either way, the assumption is this:  Our hope for whatever God has in store for us will come from within us.  If left unchecked, this results in a subtle but strong priority shift.  Whether growing or declining, churches come to believe the primary aim is to focus on those already in the fold.   In declining churches, this means that the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ is lost entirely.  In growing churches, the vision gets weakened by talk of, "We need to stop focusing so much on unreached people outside our walls and feed the ones who are already in!"  All of this is anchored by the belief that hope comes from within those already in the club.

This phenomenon did not come from the Body of Christ's birth as a movement.  Prior to ascending, Jesus did not say, "Go back to Jerusalem and get organized.  Create a budget and follow it.  Make sure you have an organizational flow church.  Get your internal act together.  Once you have all that done, I'll send the Holy Spirit."  They were just praying and waiting in Jerusalem; the Church wasn't even a "thing."  They had no hope from within.  Without organization, credentials, marketing, or traditions, they were thrust by the Holy Spirit outside of themselves as Jesus followers.  It was not about them.  Their future hope was in 3,000 people outside of them who were on the threshold of meeting Jesus and didn't even know it.  From the get-go, hope for the Church is always outside of us.

As Jesus-followers in churches, hope is not within us; it is outside of us.  We commit to Jesus and a church's mission SO THAT we will engage the mission field around us.  We grow as followers of Jesus SO THAT people outside of our walls will see Jesus in us.  We get our hands dirty in service SO THAT we can be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus beyond our church campuses.  We give money SO THAT churches can be resourced to be the front line of bringing unreached, under-served, unloved people into the arms of God.  We share faith SO THAT someone else can meet Jesus.  It's never about us, our churches, our buildings, and all our internal stuff.  It's always about Matthew 28:19.    Hope comes from outside of us.

One old canoeist/kayaker's opinion...I'll see you around the next bend in the river.

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