Many churches think they are outsider focused. They aren’t.
Many churches think they can be both insider and outsider focused. They can’t.
Many churches know they are insider focused and don’t have any plans to change.
As a pastor, I find it easier and more natural to focus on who I am trying to keep, rather than on who I’m trying to reach. After all, outsiders don’t typically complain or send nasty emails. Those usually come from insiders.
Because of this, the natural pull of every local church is to become insider focused.The natural pull of every local church is to become insider focused. Click To Tweet
The early church in the Book of Acts totally resisted this natural pull. One of the biggest reasons the first church survived the first century, despite all of the odds stacked against them, was because of their focus. They were laser-focused on those they wanted to reach.
For example, in Acts 4, after being told to stop preaching or they would be put to death, they prayed for boldness to continue. They didn’t pray for protection or safety, they asked for boldness. They didn’t pull back, they pressed in.
They focused more on who they wanted to reach, and less on themselves and who they were trying to keep.
In Acts 15, the early church leaders held their first board meeting to discuss the law of circumcision. This debate was about more than just surgery. It was really about which of the Old Testament laws they would keep and which ones they would get rid of.
After much discussion, James, the brother of Jesus, boldly declared that the group should “not make it difficult for the Gentiles to come to God.” The group followed his lead. It was a bold move. This one decision could cost them a significant portion of the Jewish members in the church. At the time, the Jews would have accounted for the vast majority of the church and would have profoundly disagreed with discarding any of Moses’ laws and traditions. But, the leadership decided to focus more on who they were trying to reach, as opposed to who they were trying to keep. This mindset is why the church moved forward with such power and influence.
In Acts 26, Paul stands before King Agrippa as a beaten, weathered, rough old man. By this time, he had been imprisoned for most of his life, beaten and left for dead, and flogged multiples times. King Agrippa most likely knew Paul when he was Saul of Tarsus, an up and coming influential leader of the Pharisees. No doubt, King Agrippa was curious as to why Paul gave up all that he had to choose a life as a member of the persecuted Christian sect. Paul was happy to answer him, “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” (Acts 26:19)
What was the vision from heaven?
“I’m sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I’m sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.” (Acts 26:17-18 The Message)
There it is again! Paul’s sole focus was on outsiders.
I’m inspired by the early church leaders and their single focus to do whatever it takes to reach people for Jesus. My heart is to be the same way and I want my church to have the same singular focus. But I have noticed that we all easily drift to focusing on insiders. Why?
These three examples in Acts highlight three reasons we all naturally drift to become insider focused:
No. 1 Fear.
The insiders are always the loudest voices in the room because they are the ones in the room.
We fear their backlash. When we take a stand to reach the outsiders as a church, many insiders begin to feel afraid that they’re being left out and that their needs won’t get met.
They demand our attention and if we don’t give it to them, they threaten to leave. We have to decide whether we will fight more for who we are trying to keep or for who we are trying to reach.
It takes courage to focus on the outsiders. Courage like the early church displayed in Acts 4.
No. 2 We confuse what’s sacred.
The message is sacred, the methods are not.
The message is Jesus and His resurrection.
That is not up for discussion, nor should it ever be.
The methods we use to preach that message are totally open for debate.
Our methods and traditions include the music we play, the order of service, the length of service, the type of altar calls, the dress code, the language we use etc.
When churches that are reaching the unchurched are criticized, it is usually over the fact that they are using different methods than what is traditional.
It is rarely over the fact that the message is incorrect. This is what the leaders in Acts 15 needed to discern. Was the argument over the Old Testament law compromising the methods or the message?
We need to learn to distinguish the message from the methods and be open to messing with the methods in order to open people up to receive the message. The message is sacred, the methods are not. Click To Tweet
No. 3 The vision is unclear.
Solomon said it thousands of years ago, “Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint.”
This is especially true for the church. If the church is unclear on its mission, then it will begin focusing on the wrong things.
Our mission is the Great Commission. When that becomes optional, we start arguing over our diverse methodologies and competing with one another instead of working together on our great co-operative mission. Paul was focused and effective because he had a clear vision.