For Whom Does Our Church Exist?
April 29, 2017 | by: Chris Francis | 0 Comments
Posted in: Our Vision
The following is an excerpt from a book I'm reading called "Winning on Purpose" by John Edmund Kaiser. I thought it went along well with the thrust of our sermon from this past Sunday (Resurrection - Part 2: Power to Go).
The first question for any band of believers who cares about their collective destiny is this: Why does our congregation exist? Before we look at the possible answers let's make sure we understand the question. The question is not why the Church of Jesus Christ exists. The question is not why we as humans or as Christians exist. The question before us is more local and more urgent: why does our congregation exist? If [our church] were to disappear, what difference would it make? more pointedly, for whom would it make a difference?
For congregations in local communities, there are only three possible answers to this question:
1) This congregation exists for us -- the people inside.
2) This congregation exists for others -- the people outside.
3) This congregation exists for both.
The first answer obviously reflects a congregation with an inward focus. Caring for its own members is the primary task. According to Missiologist Win Arn, 89% of church attendees surveyed said that the primary purpose of their congregation is to serve their needs and the needs of their family. So in practice, if not in print, it may be fair to say that most congregations choose number one.
A minority of congregations that put out-reach first choose#2. Whether they do it through traditional altar calls, contemporary seeker services or postmodern community ministries, the primary customers to be served are the people who "aren't here yet" this congregations are fully outward in their focus.
But there is a third option: We are here for everybody. Hard to argue with this position, isn't it? It appeals to our general sense of fair play, not to mention the character of God, who "does not show favoritism " (Acts 10:34). When we look closely at the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 -20, we see that as Jesus is disciples, we are not only to make and baptize more disciples but also to teach them once we have them. Evangelize and edify. Know Christ and make Christ known. What could be more biblically, theologically, and politically correct than to say that our congregation exists to serve both the people inside and the people outside? What could possibly be wrong answer #3?
It's a safe answer. It isn't wrong. But it isn't sufficient either. If we say that our congregation is here to serve both the insider and the outsider, we are compelled to ask a follow-up question: who do we serve first? Now if at this point we try to achieve the overrated virtues of balance and lack of controversy, we will discover a surprise. If we say that we will serve both groups equally, you may be sure that our congregation will wind up hopelessly focused inward. How so? Because the needs of those inside the congregation are the ones that will always be in your face. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and if there is one spiritual gift all congregations have, it is the gift of squeaking with tongues. Why don't we ever sing my favorite song? Why didn't someone visit me when I was sick? Why don't we have a children's club for my third grader? However, no one will ever march down the street from the neighborhood, pound on the pastors office door, and demand "Why haven't you started making disciples of Jesus Christ on my block?!"
If we fail to put intention and resources behind the mission of serving others before serving ourselves, we will not escape the gravitational force of inwardness. Self-centered behavior is the human condition and it cannot be overcome without submission to divine priorities and power.
On the other hand, when the congregation chooses answer #3 and then goes on to choose serving others first and themselves second, it is embarking on an outward focused ministry that also takes care of its own. The primary vs. secondary priority is essential to an outward focus despite the fact that the nature of the serving differs according to the needs of those served. The need of outsiders to be reached must be raised noticeably higher than the need of the members to be equipped for reaching them. Otherwise, the equipping easily becomes code for inward preoccupation. The mission of Christ to the world comes first and supporting the mission team come second but not far behind.