Reaching Out at the Expense of the Church?
Most believers will agree that the church should be outward looking and care about the lost. However, for some, it’s a question of timing. You might hear things like, “First, we need to take care of ourselves. We have to take care of our own people and their needs first and then, once everything is in order within the church, then we can start looking outwards.” I struggle to find such a mentality in Scripture. In Scripture, what the church is called to be, it’s called to be all around at all times. It’s called to simultaneously care for its own members and for the lost — they are not mutually exclusive. One could even question whether our priorities should be the other way around: putting the lost first. Consider this excerpt from Kevin Harney’s Organic Outreach:
When people complained to me about our outreach efforts, about the financial costs, or about the changes we were making at the church, I asked them, “As followers of Jesus, what do we have that can never be taken away?” Sometimes the person stared at me with a confused look. So I clarified what I was asking until they understood. They often began to list elements of their heavenly inheritance.
“We have heaven as our home.”
“We have the family of God, the church.”
“We have the love and grace of Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, cleansing from our sins.”
Once they got rolling, they ended up with a great list of the heavenly storehouse of blessings Jesus’ followers have. After conversing about all of that, I would ask them another question: “What do lost people have that will last forever?”
Very quickly, most people ended up saying, “Nothing.” Or they said, “Eternal separation from God.” Most of the time, this became a sacred and sober moment, sometimes accompanied by tears, as we talked about how people who are without Jesus, no matter what they might have in this world, really have nothing of value.
From this point of biblical understanding, we usually began to have a meaningful discussion about how the church should use its time, resources, and influence to reach those who are spiritually poor. (pp. 36-37)
One could go further and say that a church that cares about the lost is also going to be serving its own membership in the process. It’s well-known that as believers share their faith, they find that their own faith is strengthened and encouraged. One should never pit these two against one another.