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Reaching Out—Siders!

Most people enjoy the feeling of thinking they have the “inside” track. It might be the inside track towards a better job or the inside track of knowing the right people in order to accomplish your goals.  Having the inside track means you know the right people and you know the right steps to get where you desire to go.  With that said, no one enjoys feeling like they are the outsider.  You don’t feel like you know anyone you need to know nor do you feel accepted by him or her.  All of us, at one time or another, have felt like an outsider and it was not a good feeling.

Your church must be careful to not build a culture that promotes a mentality of rewarding the insiders while rejecting the outsiders.  We should never make it seem like being a card-carrying member means you have certain insider information and rights.  Actually, the focus of those already on the inside should be on how they can serve and minister to those who are on the outside.  Matter of fact, Jesus focused on the outsiders by loving them and reaching out to them.  It has been said, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems crazy…until you are that one!”  

Jesus pulled no punches with the religious crowd in Luke 4:25-27 reminding them that Elijah did not go to the aid of a widow from Israel but rather a foreigner, an outsider from the region of Sidon.  Jesus continues by telling them that even though there were many lepers in Israel Elisha went to Naaman a Syrian, also an outsider.  Jesus did not place much stock in lineage, social standing, or pedigree.  The deciding factor on the individual these prophets would help was not based on that person being an insider but rather whether or not they responded in faith.

InKingdom Matrix Jeff Christopherson writes, “Outsiders would be blessed if they responded to the revelation that God gives.  Insiders would be ignored, passed-over, disregarded, (or worse) if they did not demonstrate faith in God’s revelation.  Others, any others, even Gentiles, would receive a blessing from Him, but His hometown, through their own unbelief, would be completely passed over.” How sad that those who watched Jesus grow up would miss out on His salvation.  Their “inside” information did not seem to help them at all because of their lack of faith. 

 Jesus’ message of reaching outsiders was not well received.  They drove Him out of town and wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff.  It should not catch us off guard or surprise us when some of our “insiders” are not overjoyed about reaching “outsiders.” Unfortunately, way too many insiders seem to have blind spots about who they should be reaching out to and are not interested in obeying Christ’s commission.  It is very sad that some Christian “insiders” can even become angry and enraged by the thought of reaching certain outsiders.  

Peter finally figured this out and learned his lesson in Acts 10 when he says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”  He did not come around without some strong hesitation and arguing.  You must be ready to address these challenges, excuses, and disobedience.  Prejudice is real and should not be ignored.  It creates an inward focus on those you already have and causes you to forget that your church actually exists to obey the great commission.

The challenges will be plentiful as “insiders” say things like, “Shouldn’t we focus on taking care of who we already have first?” The bean counters will want to know, “How much is this going to cost us?”  Those in control will wonder, “Will we still have enough votes on our side at the business meeting if we grow too much?”  The “white and uptight” will struggle with worshipping with the “down and out.”  The legalists will worry about new people not following the already well-established unwritten rules that all of the “insiders” know well.

What if pursuing the de-churched and un-churched once again became our priority? 

 What if loving the lost, last, and least was more important than our personal preferences? 

 What if we once again did what Jesus did; built relationships with sinners who were far from God? 

 Jeff Vanderstelt recently tweeted, “When the church doesn’t expect normal Christians to be on mission in their every day life, then we’ve misunderstood the very nature of what it means to be God’s people.”  When the church is not interested in reaching outsiders it has no reason to exist.

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Have we become more concerned about how many are attending instead of how many are engaging people far from God?  Have we become so focused on seating capacity that we have forgotten about measuring our sending capacity?  Have we become so busy with all we are doing around the church that we have forgotten our primary purpose and are neglecting God’s mission? Jesus made our purpose and mission very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Are you making disciples?

*Here are a few more questions to evaluate your ministry.  

*Are lives being changed and transformed?  

*Are you seeing disciples being made?  

*Has your church chosen survival and scarcity over the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community?  

*Does most of your present ministry focus on the “insiders” or are you actively engaging in ministry that serves the “outsiders” on a regular basis?  

*Are you striving to be the fullness of Jesus Christ in every corner of your culture and every sphere of your society? 

Many health issues are amplified and the symptoms get worse when we shift from being outwardly-focused and become inwardly focused!!! 

Do We Need Revitalization?

 We usually will go to our family doctor once a year for an annual checkup.  We want to make sure everything is ok and hope for a clean bill of health.  Maybe we need some minor adjustments or simple instructions to improve our health such as starting to walk more.  Basic steps such as that can make a huge difference in our overall health.  The greater problem is if we ignore our health until very drastic steps must be quickly taken and.  Usually, the longer you ignore sickness the worse it becomes until it can even be life threatening.

Hey church, the same is true about you!  The longer you refuse to ignore signs of being unhealthy the sicker you will become.  Even though the sickness your church might be experiencing can be very complex the solutions can actually be very simple.  A church says, “We never see visitors and no one ever gets saved!” The solution can be as basic as inviting more people and sharing your faith regularly!  The reality is that if your church attendance continues to decline eventually you will have to close the doors unless something changes.

There are different levels of sickness just as there are different stages of cancer.  Are you willing to diagnose just how sick your church is?  Are you brave enough to cry out to God and ask Him to show you where you are falling short of being the vibrant body of Christ He desires for you to be?  Are you willing to repent of the things He shows you that need to change for your congregation to be healthy and thriving once again?  There are different levels of church sickness that you need to consider so you can take the steps necessary, whether they are simple or not.

  1. Maybe you need to refocus on why you exist. Your church exists for His glory and so that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren reminds that according to Acts 2 the church is to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission. Which one do you need to refocus on the most?  Pick the one big thing you need to work on and refocus on that for the next three months. The dictionary says, “The verb refocus means to readjust an optical device.”  It can also mean to change your priorities.  The word of God is our lens and it is to be our rule and standard. Look through His lens and see what may need to be made clearer.  Paul says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”  In II Chronicles 20:12 it tells us that when God’s children were terrified because a mighty army was descending upon them, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  That is a great place to begin by refocusing! 
  2. The prescription for health may require more than a simple tweak or adjustment; it may demand revitalization.  When you take the two root words of revitalize and add the “ion” it means to make live again.  It is the idea of restoring vitality to your church by giving it back the vigor and vitality it once had.  Thom Rainer describes the difference between refocusing and revitalization like this. Refocusing means you want to improve by asking, “How can we do this better?”  Revitalization wants to fix what is wrong and asks, “How do we make it right?”  In our Activate initiative we describe the lifecycle of a church in three stages.  Are you inclining, reclining, or declining?  The longer you have been on the decline the harder it will be for revitalization to occur. There is no silver bullet or plug-n-play that fixes everything overnight.  There is a big difference in the time required to lose 5 pounds and losing 100. There is a big difference in commitment if you decide to get in shape to run a 5K and running a marathon.  It may not be easy but it is always worth it when we are battling for God’s glory. 
  3. Another option may require a church considering replanting.  There are many different ways this can look.  It might mean handing the building over to a healthy congregation or to a new church plant.  It could also mean selling the facilities and reinvesting the resources into advancing His kingdom.  A congregation might need to prayerfully consider what could be done to use the investment that was already made and who might be able to focus on reaching that community for Christ.  Every church has a lifecycle and there comes a time to accept that. 

Recently on a podcast I heard Mark Clifton say, “For a neighborhood a building represents a sacred space.  Every neighborhood benefits from that sacred space. When they see that space decline and fall into disrepair it reflects on the glory of God.  We know that building is not the church but the unchurched, the unsaved, they do think it is a representation of the glory of God.  It is worth reclaiming that property for God’s glory.”  He then quoted a friend who said, “A vacant church looks like a long abandoned castle of a long forgotten king.” 

Consider contacting us to see how our Activate initiative might be able to help you evaluate where you are and what steps you might consider next.  Ultimately Activate is a discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit, driven by the pastor (along with the support of a team within the church), supported by the huddle, and coached by the BMA Activate staff.  You can email me at larry@bmaam.comor Heidi Sorrells, our Pastor’s Advocate, at heidi@bmaam.comand she will be happy to help you any way she can. 

Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.