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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!!! 

What Kind of Church Do You Want to Be?

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If someone decided to visit your church would they feel welcome, comfortable, and accepted? Why should someone decide to attend and what could they expect when they arrived? Do we make them feel like “outsiders” and do they wish they knew the secret handshake? Have you ever thought about how hard it is for someone to come in and participate in something that is like a different culture and language to them? Are you a church that is trying to reach the churched or are you pursuing the unchurched?

Would you welcome them if they did not believe like you do? They may come seeking but they are still unsure about this “born again” thing. They want to be a good person but not sure if they really do believe in God. They want more in their lives but they are pretty sure we think we are better than them. They desire a safe place to seek answers to their questions without fear of being ridiculed or ostracized. All too often we want people to behave right before they have the opportunity to believe right!

Figuring out who the church is isn’t a new struggle. It goes all the way back to the first century when all of the sudden Gentiles were becoming believers and began attending the synagogues. Thousands of Jews had been saved and then they began intentionally reaching out to the Gentiles. This was way out of their comfort zones because in many of their minds, “how could someone be a follower of the Jewish Messiah and not be Jewish?” Many were uneasy about “letting” them in and many were offended!

These Gentiles brought a lot of baggage with them because of their customs, traditions, values, and their eating habits. Not only had they placed their faith in Christ but all of the sudden they showed up in the synagogues and wanted to participate. This was a huge problem because they didn’t know the rules and didn’t have a clue about all of the traditions. What would the Jewish believers do? It seemed that the logical solution would be for them to require the Gentile believers to become Jewish! Case closed!

They gave them “the list!” You know those things they had to do and those things they had to stop doing. This was not just the Ten Commandments but over 600 commandments with commentary that had been added over the years. They needed to know how to dress, when to clap and when not to clap, and what instruments were allowed. They certainly didn’t want them bringing their drums and guitars into the church because everyone knew they were worldly. You see, many churches have always wanted to supply lists of what to do, when to do it, and who is allowed to participate.

The Jewish list (check out Acts 15) took it to a whole new level. If the Gentile men wanted to be a part of the early church they would have to have surgery. They would require them to be circumcised. That must have been a very interesting new member class to attend! The Jewish believers wanted them to submit to the entire Law of Moses. If they refused, they could not be members. Keeping the law was very difficult for the most dedicated of Jews but completely impossible for an outsider to even come close.

James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all.” Peter addresses the problem in Acts 15:10-11 and basically says, “Are you kidding me? We don’t even keep the law very well. Why are you burdening them with these ridiculous requirements?” When Peter gets done, James stands up and declares in verse 19 that they shouldn’t do anything that would make it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God.

Unfortunately, there always seems to be an invisible force that pulls many churches and Christians back into a graceless religion and legalism. It just seems so much easier to produce a list that everybody has to live by. It sure isn’t as messy that way but what happens to grace? Do not our hearts then become hardened to the people who need the message of the gospel the most? If not careful, we then become a church where we are a showcase for the saints instead of a hospital for sinners!

Here is the kind of church we should desire to be:

  1. Where guests and the unchurched are the most important people on campus!
  2. Where broken, imperfect people with every kind of story imaginable are saved a seat!
  3. Where doubters, skeptics, and unbelievers are welcome to come and see if it is genuine, real, and authentic.
  4. Where if you have a question about the Bible, faith, Jesus, or the existence of God you can ask your questions and still be accepted.
  5. Where we value those who are far from God the same way He does! (See Luke 15)

Col. 4:5-6 says, “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” If we are not careful, our speech and attitude toward people far from God is full of salt and only seasoned with a little bit of grace!

We must answer the question above honestly and biblically, “What kind of church do we want to be?” Will we be keepers of the aquarium or will we be fishers of men?

Missional Leadership

 

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There are now well over 200 million people in North America who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and that number increases by one million every year. There are over two billion people in the world who do not even have access to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s command to us is to “Go and make disciples!” We must stop sitting around making excuses for why that is not happening. We have deserted our responsibility and ignored His command far too long.

We love going to church, fellowshipping with one another, and even desire to serve in various ministries in our churches. However, we do not appear as committed to the mission of God by loving the lost, the last, and the least. In Barefoot Church Brandon Hatmaker says, “We settled for serving ourselves and serving as an event rather than serving those in need and living a new way of life that Jesus has called us to.” We are better at gathering than we are at scattering to share the good news.

Could it be that because we have so much we do not realize the desperate need of others? Hatmaker compares what Jerry Jones recently spent on the new Dallas Cowboy stadium to what a church in that area was spending on their new facilities. While it cost $16,000 per seat for 100,000 fans to watch “America’s Team” the mega church spent $43,000 per seat. His point is summed up in this statement, “We spend way more on ourselves than we do on reaching, serving, and loving those outside the church.”

The challenge is, and always will be, to think of others before we think of ourselves. We must be challenged to get our eyes off of ourselves and see the multitudes that desperately need someone to tell them about Jesus. Hatmaker goes on to say, “We need to develop a better understanding of the gospel of how it is both a message we announce and a reality we display to a lost and broken world.” We must be lead back to the mission of God by leaders who have their eyes focused on the harvest.

Catalytic leaders direct their disciples, churches, and network of churches in the implementation and expansion of God’s vision for evangelism, disciple making, and church planting locally and globally. They create movement and momentum in God’s mission. Their leadership invites others who have been searching for a way to get involved to join in the journey.

Dr Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest, AR and president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached at my tribes gathering of churches (Baptist Missionary Association) and challenged us that the time is “now” for us to reach our country with the gospel. Here are a few of the things he shared that challenged me:

  • “We’ve got a theological problem! We don’t believe people are lost anymore!”
  • “We’ve got an eschatological problem, we don’t believe anymore that Jesus is coming back!”
  • “We’re going to go with those who want to go with God!”
  • “We’re going to hang this sign up & they will come! Get a real clue!”
  • “Prayer is not an action it is the primary action!”
  • “Pastor rise up in your leadership and quit focusing on secondary things!”
  • “God didn’t call you to reach the 1950s! He called you to reach the people around you now!”

If we desire a missional movement then there must be missional leaders. Our DNA must be composed of a multiplication mindset that calls people away from maintenance back to mission. Our prayer is that God will raise more catalytic leaders. What characteristics define catalytic leadership?

  • Spiritual: They are not interested in positional authority but lead through the evidence of their calling and walk with God. Their lives are evidence of the power of God.
  • Missional: Order their lives around a missionary purpose with a passion for fulfilling the Great Commission. They live every day sent by their Master.
  • Visionary: Energized by a vision of a preferred future not the status quo. Motivated by God’s heart not a program or the latest methodological fad.
  • Pioneers: Extend the mission of God by embracing their essential calling as a missionary people. They are driven to carry the gospel to every nation and every people.
  • Entrepreneurial: Take calculated risks to create new environments for the gospel where multiplication can occur through relationship building.
  • Team Players: Prefer working with others as a part of a team. They believe far more can be accomplished working with others who share their values.
  • Courageous: Reawakening us to the truth of the gospel, its demands, and its implications. They are willing to pay a high price for the furtherance of the gospel. (Rom 9:1-3)

Tony Evans puts it this way, “God is not as interested in your ‘Amen’ as He is in your action!” A healthy church is an outwardly focused church!