I’ve been involved in some discussions recently regarding the focus of the church. Should our focus be toward the outside to bring new people in or should our focus be on building people up that are already in the church?
I struggle to see how these two can be separated without doing damage to what God intended the church to be.
The same Lord who said, “come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28) has also given “some as apostles, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11).
These twin foci are intertwined and mutually dependent.
To focus on bringing people in without the intention of building them up and developing healthy body life will only cause ineffectiveness and burnout. Or, that church will have an unhealthy dependence upon a gifted preacher to draw people in. Either way, the church will be less than what God intends the church to be. We may get a lot of people attending, but are we really making disciples when the gifted preacher is the draw?
To focus on building people up in the faith without any intention of reaching out to the surrounding community will cause a spirit of superiority to develop. I have written previously about our natural tendency toward Phariseeism. Without a proper understanding of the mission of the church to make disciples, our inner Pharisee will be alive and well. We do not need fat sheep who fail to reproduce.
Anyone who has played a team sport should understand the necessity for a balance between these two foci. Not only does the team need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of its opponent, it needs to develop its own capabilities in preparation for meeting the opponent on the field of competition. Individual players need to hone their skills and they need to learn how to use those skills as part of a team. One of the things that enhances teamwork is when the individuals feel that they are part of something larger than themselves and experience the fellowship that develops from people pursuing a common goal. The practice is done with the goal of winning the game.
The church’s mission (given directly to us by our Lord) is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). To accomplish this mission, every member of the church needs to understand and develop his own gifting and he needs to understand how his gifting contributes to the success of the whole. Each of us is dependent upon the gifts of the others to form a complete unit (See Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).
It is therefore necessary for church leaders to provide an environment where a balance of internal and external focus is maintained.
Perhaps it would be helpful to look at this another way. We cannot confuse ends and means. Our mission is to make disciples; that should be the goal of every church. Building up the saints for the works of service is the means by which this end is accomplished.
Without the building up of the members of the body, the goal of making disciples cannot be properly accomplished.