The Externally Focused Quest
The Externally Focused Quest highlights a fundamental shift of perspective that is crucial for a church’s health, but I think it is rarely embraced. What does it mean to be a church for our community, rather than just a church in our community?
This book has been part of an interesting trend I’ve taken note of over the last couple of years—there has been an increasing emphasis on the idea that the church should take seriously the idea of pastoring the community it’s in. That includes caring for the people and meeting the needs of the community, even if they aren’t part of the church.
I think that’s a healthy perspective; it’s also difficult and challenging to pull off. There is a tremendous gravitational pull in every church toward becoming inward-focused. I don’t think it ever leaves. Getting a church to be outwardly focused—and staying that way—is one of the biggest challenges any pastor faces.
Why is it so hard? I don’t think it’s just that our people are selfish or uncommitted. The truth is, every church has many internal needs, and many people who need care. And those needs, and those people, are right in front of us all the time. We feel those things, very personally. Those who are outside the church, or those needs in the community, often are not right in front of us, and we don’t feel the need in the same way.
Casting a vision for reaching and caring for people we don’t even know can be tough, and acting on that vision is even tougher. I suspect our people will often agree with the vision—most Christians know it’s important to reach out. The challenge comes when it is time to make choices that actually affect people. How we use our time or spend our money is where the rubber meets the road . . . and also where the vision can run into a ditch.
It seems to me that the key issue here is that the pastor and other key leaders need to consistently model the behavior and values they are looking for. It’s pointless to encourage your people to reach out to the unchurched or to care for the community if you don’t. And that, of course, presents another challenge. Every pastor I know could fill all his or her time, every week, with the needs of the people already in the church.
It’s somewhat a test of character, courage, and commitment to the vision for a pastor to carve out time from church duties to spend it with people in the community who are outside the church and who may or may not ever actually come to the church. It’s easy for people to criticize, especially because a lot of that time isn’t going to look like “work”—it will look like hanging out, going to parties, and so on. But that seems to be what Jesus did, so I suspect it’s okay.
I’m curious—what has been your experience trying to lead a church into an outward focus? What challenges have you faced, and how did you deal with them? Click here to share what you’ve learned with the rest of us.