At Annual Conference last week, Bob Farr, the director of church development for the Missouri Conference, shared about what it means to be an outwardly-focused church.  He had a lot of great things to say; challenging things, for sure.  But I happen to think he was dead on with what he had to say.  I want to share a couple of things, and then connect them to today’s reading from Ephesians 2.

  • “When did we transition from a ‘go to’ church to a ‘come to’ church?”
  • “We don’t need people to protect the church as we knew it.  The world has changed.  Nobody wakes up and says, ‘Let’s go to church!’  If everyone who wants to go to church goes, then we have to do something different in our church because 80% aren’t going.”
  • “Do we want our church to grow, or do we want to decline with the people we know?”
  • “There’s no reward for growing a church.  No matter how much success you have, you won’t see it.”  He then related a story of his last Sunday in a church where somebody came through and accused him of messing up her church – a church that saw hundreds of baptisms and incredible growth during his time there.  He messed up her church because her Sunday school class was different.  There are always people who want to hold on to the way things used to be, and they aren’t typically shy about letting you know when they aren’t.

I think when it comes to church, many people want things to stay the way that they like them because that’s what they like.  They have certain preferences, and when things deviate from those preferences, they are unhappy about it, and typically won’t hesitate to let you know.  They want things to always stay the same.  This is impossible.  Nothing ever stays the same.  Time continues to march on, and things change with it.  In the church, we have to remember something very important – we were once outsiders.

There was a time in all of our lives when we were outsiders to the church.  Even those who “grew up” in the church had a moment in their lives where they took ownership, they decided to become part of that community of faith.  The tendency is to try to keep things the same because it reminds us of a “golden era” that never really existed outside of our idealistic memory, which brings me to Ephesians 2:

11Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
Paul reminds his audience – and us – that we were once on the outside looking in, but we were brought into the fold by Jesus Christ.  In a similar way, we need to be doing whatever it takes in order to reach those on the outside and help them receive that same reconciliation in Jesus Christ.  What does that mean?  It means that things have to be different.  Things have to change.  Churches have to be focused on something beyond themselves – and the people in them do as well.
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