Outward vs Inward Churches?

Dear Reader,

A friend was over this week and saw a book of my husband’s called “Churches that Make a Difference.” This is a book our pastor gave him to read as a deacon-elect (of which there are four waiting to be ordained and installed in our new church). We also have another similarly titled book (something about how to help without hurting) that the adult Sabbath school is supposed to begin studying.

Anyway, my friend’s immediate reaction on seeing the book was along the lines of “Oh, are you going to be an outwardly oriented church?”  I can’t remember exactly how she phrased it. And my first thought was . . . nothing. My mind went blank. Because I have no idea what these words mean or what the alternative would be. Is this a thing in modern Christian lingo that I am missing? That is quite possible as I do not read much modern Christian stuff (unless we have to for that adult class).

So I guess my question is are there “outward” and “inward” churches? Is one right and the other wrong? Are these even categories we need?

My take on it would be this: The church is a family. It has spheres of influence. The primary one is to its members. If there are people in the church who have unmet needs that no one is doing anything about, something is seriously wrong with that church. As resources (of time, money, and energy) permit, the church should also seek to serve those outside. I know for our family, there are times we can help others and there are times when it is all we can do to get our family from one day to another. I would think it is the same for churches. There are times when the resources are there and times when God is saying “work on yourselves for now.” 

When it comes to who to try and serve, I think we need to look at what’s in front of us. Sometimes people or groups will be called to go to those far away with whom they had no previous contact. But mostly God puts people in our lives. These are our neighbors in the biblical use of the word. The good Samaritan in the famous parable understood this.  And if there is no one in your life or the life of your church now who seems to need your help and service? Pray for God to send people your way. Look at your community and see if there is a natural community nearby that you are overlooking.

Our homework for Sabbath school this week is to answer some specific questions about a scenario in the book are reading. We are to imagine ourselves in 2004 sending people and resources to help tsunami victims in Indonesia. There is a list of specific questions (who should go? what supplies will they need? etc) to answer. But for me, I cannot even begin to answer these questions. We have a church of 30 or so adults, many of whom have families with young children. If this were a serious proposal for our congregation, we answer would be “what are you? crazy?” This is not something is makes any sense for our church to do. Now we do have two families in our church who are African refugees. They live near to people in our church, and they regularly attend our services. They are part of a larger community here. They are a natural group for us to reach out to. I can’t even answer the book’s questions hypothetically. I wouldn’t know where to begin. Probably I will not get a passing grade for this week’s class.

So should churches be outwardly focused? Often. Maybe not always. There are times when work needs to be done internally. There are times when a lot of needs may have to be met but they are among the congregants and do not involve reaching out. I do think that as God places people in our paths we should serve them. It should be natural for individuals or small groups or even a whole congregation to do this. It should be our natural inclination to serve our neighbors as we see their needs. I don’t think this requires a church policy or a larger ministry program. These things may be a good idea at some point but they are by no means necessary.

The book we are reading warns against churches that claim to preach God’s Word but do nothing service-wise. But I think we also need to be aware that service, even and maybe especially large service projects, can mask a lack of truth as well. There are many reasons people give or serve others, not all of them are for the glory of God. In the end, it is the state of our hearts which matters. A heart that seeks after God will both adhere to the truth and will seek to serve others as the opportunities arise. To try and separate the two aspects of our spiritual walk seems to me ultimately false.

Nebby

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