Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Heart of Jesus

Last night we had an incredible leaders meeting. We spent some time talking about our vision to be an externally-focused church. It concerned some leaders that they have heard statements from some members like: “I don’t think I want our church to grow, I don’t know everyone now”; or “why make all these changes to reach new people, we liked things the way they were;” or “what makes reaching new people more important than taking care of those we already have?” or “We were here first. This is our church.” These sentiments are by no means wide-spread but they are difficult to hear none-the-less. One leader observed that these sentiments are exactly what Sean talked about Sunday morning. Even in the church there is a temptation to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of the well-being (or salvation) of others.

All this begs the question: why would a church choose to focus on outsiders? Why even bother with those outside our walls at all? My answer is: because of God’s heart. It has always been my understanding that we are striving to reflect the heart of Jesus, regardless of the inconvenience or cost. We’ve said that spiritual maturity is having the things that matter to God matter to us. It is interesting to think about who was on Jesus’ mind during His last hours on this earth. Where was His focus?

In John 17 Jesus prayed for His disciples, as well as all those who would come to believe in Him through their words (John 17:20-23). That’s US. He prayed that His people would be unified. But that unity was not an end in itself. He wanted us to be unified “so that the world might believe.” Outsiders would be making decisions about a relationship with God based on how they saw His people treating one another. Jesus’ gaze was set on outsiders and he wanted to make sure that our behavior drew them to Him and didn’t push them away.

At the end of the Book of Matthew there is a passage we call the Great Commission. It is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. In that passage Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I have underlined the Greek verbs in this passage: go, make, baptize and teach. Which do you think is the primary verb in that sentence? It is the word “make.” The other verbs describe how we make disciples. We go find them, we baptize them and we teach them. Our primary mission is to make disciples of all nations. As long as there is one person in our neighborhood or in a remote corner of the globe that does not know Jesus, our work is not done. We, like the Shepherd, would leave the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15). Jesus’ focus was on those who were lost and dying without Him. His aim was to reach people and mature them to the point that they would go bring more and more people to God.

In Acts 1:8-9 Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders. These words represent His last words to His followers. He says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. The word “witnesses” is the word “martus” a word from which we get our English word “martyr.” It is a missionary word. It speaks of one who can and will proclaim Jesus to those who do not know Him, even at the risk of their own lives. Jesus’ charge to his disciples was that they be witnesses to outsiders from here to the ends of the earth.

When the early church kept this focus it did well. This small band of disciples, through their witnessing, went from 120 to 3,120 literally overnight. I doubt they were concerned that they didn’t know everyone. It was exciting. They were on the front lines of God's work. People were being added to their number daily and the church very quickly grew to 5,000 men (not counting women and children). Conservative estimates are that within one year of Jesus’ final words, the number of His followers had grown from 120 to 20,000 people. And that was just the beginning.

It was when church members began to focus on themselves that the problems began. Paul's letter to the church in Corinth was written to a congregation that had lost its outward focus. That church had incredible problems. When churches turn inward they begin to fuss, fragment and die. We will have an eternity to praise our God and bask in the glow of our relationship with Him. What must matter to us now is bringing as many people with us as possible.

I have a few questions. Which do you think Jesus cares more about: me getting to worship in a style I like on Sunday morning or His church intentionally reaching out to those who will go to hell without Him? Is He more interested in me “knowing everyone” or with His church bringing more and more people to hear His life-changing Word? Is He more interested in my comfort or another person’s salvation?

The apostle Paul made it his mission to “win as many as possible.” When you hear me talk about being “on mission” that is what I mean. The leaders of our church from our elders, to our staff, to our ministry leaders have come together around this calling. We want the things that matter most to Jesus to matter most to us. As parents, it makes us proud when our children mature to the point that they put the needs of others ahead of their own. We believe God shares this emotion.

As leaders we face many difficult decisions. We lead a diverse church. It is impossible to please everyone. In our discussions we have identified two over-riding choices. We can either be member-driven or mission-driven. Member-driven churches work hard to keep all of their members happy. They focus on those they already have. They don’t rock the boat or introduce change. Their decisions are driven by what would make their members comfortable and happy. Most member-driven churches are withering and dying. The comfort of our members is too small a thing to dedicate our lives to. Leaders of mission-driven churches ask their members to join them in reaching the world for Jesus. They acknowledge the work will be hard. It will require sacrifice. Everybody will be uncomfortable. Yet, these leaders know that the mission of God drove Jesus’ life and it must drive ours as well.

I shared some of this article with Sean this morning. He shared a story of a man who came and spoke at their chapel service at Lincoln Christian College. After he preached one Sunday a woman came to him and said: “I just don’t think I want this church to grow any larger. I can’t go to a church that gets so big that I won’t know everybody’s name. I just don’t want to attend a church like that.” The old preacher said: “Ok, I understand, but I need you to help me with something.” That lady looked puzzled, but said: “OK, what?” He continued: “I need you to help me make a sign to put in front of our church for those who are passing by; a sign that says ‘we don’t give a rip if you are going to hell, there’s no room for you here.’” Ouch!

We long to reflect the heart of Jesus. Our vision is to be a mission-driven church. As leaders we pray that you will join us in the most difficult, exhilarating enterprise on the planet.

Bill Easum writes: “God will give you everything you ever need and more, if you will just make it about His kingdom and not about you!”

1 comment:

eyesoutward said...

good post...I'm working with a CMA church that is seeking to shift to externally focused. our church is large, outward focused and from time to time we hear the same comments from people who don't understand the Father's heart for the city.

I penned an article....Why does the church exist? for next-wave.org... I received some interesting responses.