Thursday, September 25, 2014

Internally Strong, Externally Focused by Mark Spence

My longtime friend, Mark Spence, recently wrote a blogpost I'd like to share called "Internally Strong, Externally Focused." This is posted with his permission. Enjoy:

In the book, The Externally Focused Church by two pastor-theologians, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson, coined the phrase “externally focused” that defines a church that equips, empowers and encourages church members to be missionaries to their community, particularly through service. Before going deeper into how a church can be internally strong and externally focused, I would like to take a brief look at other types of churches that maybe aren’t as interested in practicing both internal strength and cultivating an external focus.

Internally strong, internally focused

An internally strong and internally focused church is mainly interested in itself.  This is a program heavy church with a full church calendar.  The goal is to keep members busy and to attract new members by offering as many events, ministries, programs, etc. as possible.

A sign that a church is internally focused is that although it may be adding new members every month, the new members join by transfer from other churches.  This type of church may baptize many each year as well but it is likely that the baptisms are of members’ children.  So the church may seem evangelistic due to its new members and baptisms, but in reality, it is not reaching non-Christians outside of the walls of the church campus.

This type of church is more of a Christian country club than it is a church on mission with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Internally weak, externally focused

An externally focused but internally weak church is outstanding at evangelism.  This type of church attracts a huge crowd at weekend services and consistently witnesses many adults, students and kids come to saving faith in Christ.  The majority of the church’s time and resources are poured into making the worship services as exciting, creative and attractive to the lost as possible. Using a tired cliche, this type of church is a seeker-oriented or seeker-friendly church.

Because the focus is on the worship services, an internally weak church has a huge “back door”.  Meaning that while it sees many new Christians come to faith, it also sees many members looking for a church that offers more depth in discipleship.  The disciple making ministries, such as small groups, are an afterthought of an internally weak church.

Internally weak, externally unfocused

An internally weak and externally unfocused church is an unhealthy church heading towards closing its doors.  The age of the church members tends to be older, with little interest in doing what it takes to reach new people with the gospel.  While the church may have small groups and other discipleship ministries, the small groups have not added new members in recent memory.  Unfortunately, the baptistry is dry with members unable to remember the last time it was used.

The scariest aspect of this type of church is that far too many churches in America are both internally weak and externally unfocused; too many churches in America are more likely to close their doors within the next generation than they are to reach people with the gospel.

Internally strong, externally focused 

Externally focused churches encourage members and leaders to become involved in the community. Service, outside the walls of the church campus, encourages members to build relationships with the unchurched.  As relationships are developed through community involvement, hearts will be opened to the gospel. Service allows Christians to be the salt and light that Christ has called them to be.

Church members can discern where to serve through their personal interests and proclivities.  For my family, this means that I coach my boys’ soccer team.  For others, it can mean active engagement in scouting, service organizations like Lions Club, dance troupes, bands, sports at all levels and ages, PTA, biker gangs, gaming (video game)…things…, etc.   The sky is the limit and creativity should be encouraged. 

Community engagement and service, when done with intentionality for the gospel, has great potential for the church to the unchurched with good news of Jesus Christ.

An externally focused church will have fewer activities and events.  Some events, such as Fall Festival, may have to be sacrificed in order to free church members towards externally engagement.  Ministries, such as upwards sports, may also have to be given up so that a church member can enlist their children in a local sports league and for parents to help lead the team.

Even though there should be fewer ministries and a cleaner calendar, the church will have to prioritize disciple-making ministries in order to be internally strong.  When someone is lead to Christ through community engagement, there has to be a process in place through the church to help the new Christians to reach spiritual maturity.

In addition to a strong disciple making process, the worship service will have to be engaging, sermons will need to exposit the scriptures faithfully, small groups must be a place for fellowship, community and accountability, the pastors will have to take their responsibility to shepherd the church seriously and the church must have a means to equip church members to share the gospel.  In short, the church must be internally strong in order to fulfill the great commission’s command to reach people with the gospel and disciple them.

Also, pray for Mark today (9/25/14), he is having knee surgery.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review: Cofee House Chronicles Set

For the past few years a friend of mine has been struggling with faith in God. He has questioned God, Jesus, creation and everything else that goes along with faith. Through this process, we have moved from creation to the person of Jesus.

I purchased the first book in this series, “Who is Jesus,” in hopes of taking a in-depth look to see if my friend could be convinced that Jesus really was a real person who lived, died, and has a story history cannot deny… in my friend’s mind! This book was totally different than what I expected, but it was good and proved useful.

Written by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett, this series is comprised of three books: Who Is Jesus, Did the Resurrection Happen, and Is the Bible True. All of these books are all short reads, told in a story format. The setting is a college campus and coffee house where people wrestle with and debate points of faith and Christianity. Personally, I really enjoyed all three books. I found all to be beneficial, easy to read, and filled with great facts. However, if you are looking for a resource comprised of cold hard facts, I would recommend looking elsewhere.