I recently spoke at a friend’s church and mentioned that I believe Jesus teaches that we become more whole, more joyous, more fulfilled, as our focus moves away from ourselves and more outward.
For instance, Jesus once told his disciples not to worry about what they’ll wear or what they’ll eat, that instead if they focused outwardly on what the Father was doing, all those things would be taken care of.
That’s a radical outward-focus.
Honestly, I’ve met very few people who actually function like that. And some of them I thought needed medication. But all Jesus was doing was juxtaposing an inward-focused approach to life with an outward-focus, focused on God and others. As physician and writer John Andrew Holmes noted, “It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.”
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. (Galatians 5:19-21a Message Bible)
As a leader, creating an outward-focused approach in your church will slowly change everything, even the way a church looks and functions. When we intentionally develop a culture of grace and acceptance and truly pursue broken people by creating contexts in which they become part of our community, it gets sloppy. Really sloppy.
When I pastored, I found it interesting when someone would get mad about something and tell me we should be more like the “New Testament church,” as if that was some idyllic time in Church history.
My answer was typically: “Which one do you want to be like?—they were sexing it up in Corinth, suing each other and getting drunk at the church potlucks. Believers in Thessaloniki stopped working and sat around waiting for Jesus to come back. Folks in the Colossian church were worshipping angels and beating themselves to prove how holy they were. In Galatia, they were turning into legalists and racists. So which New Testament church do you want us to be?”
Every church has issues to deal with.
But one thing is clear: if you make it a goal to develop an outward-focused church, to serve those who don’t yet know Jesus, it will get really messy, because people in process are messy.
Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much revenue comes by the strength of the ox. Proverbs 14:4 NASB
Think about it:
Do you want a tidy church, or do you want transformation and replication? It’s one or the other.
And if it’s the latter, put on some rubber gloves and get a bucket.