Let me lay my cards on the table by stating a central belief I have about the local church: it must be outward-focused if it is to survive.
And my background is such that I strongly believe we are to passionately follow the example of Jesus, who said, “The Son of Man came to find lost people and save them.” LUKE 19:10 NCV
Then as he put it to his friends after his resurrection, “As the Father sent me, I now send you.” JOHN 20:21 NCV
But here’s the problem and the organizational dynamic:
For better or for worse, churches will value whatever the lead pastor values and usually will go spiritually only where the lead pastor goes. After a number of years in ministry, it’s typical for pastors to become so insulated and so deep in the Christian subculture that they lose their heart for evangelism at a personal level. I think that’s why Paul, in mentoring Timothy, says,
…Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you. 2 TIMOTHY 4:5b NLT
Dont Lose Your Edge for People
In other words, Tim, don’t lose your edge for people who haven’t yet met Jesus. It’s the most natural thing in the world to become inward-focused. Christians can circle the wagons faster than anyone. It’s easy to develop a fortress mentality instead of seeing the church as a force.
In his classic book, Church for the Unchurched, George Hunter defined “apostolic” churches as, first of all, having leaders who believe they are called and sent to reach unchurched people.
The Local Church as the Answer
When your heart is broken for a particular city, town, or community, you tend to see the local church as the answer, the only real lighthouse, and as a missionary outpost in a post-Christian world. Outward-focused pastors feel a sense of destiny, of calling to a particular place. It becomes theirs.
Years ago, I was meeting with one of our church planters for lunch. He talked about driving over the hill into the small town where he had started a church and was moved by the sense that this is where he was supposed to be. He spontaneously prayed, “Father, give this town to me.” He immediately heard God say in his spirit, “No, I’m giving you to this town.” That’s a bit of a paradigm shift, isn’t it?—no matter how subtle it may be.
If you’re not sure about your apostolic geography, walk around your local mall or main street. Ask God to break your heart for the people. Drive around the town and pray. Increase your intuitive sense for what is needed. Ask God what the felt needs are. Just get a heart for your city.
Outward-focused pastors and leaders think a lot about how their churches might connect with people who haven’t yet encountered Jesus. They’re a bit obsessive because they intuitively understand that people will do whatever the leader does.
The bottom line is simple:
Outward-focused churches have outward-focused leaders