Outside and Inside
“Often our preoccupation with the three most basic human desires – security, pleasure and power – is the cloak that covers transparency.” Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish (check out Fridays for a discussion of the book). Ask yourself this question, when was the last time you felt that feeling of safety?
For me, more often than not, that place of safety and security has been church. There is something going on, being in a place of prayer, the Word and song, which gives off this sense of safety. My intuitive feeling is that it much more than just the prayers, the Word and the songs though, I sense that it is what was spoken about in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”
Over at the Jesus Creed, there have been a series of posts on seeking to get a handle on what we mean when we say church. The book being reviewed is the new one by Jensen and Wilhite called Church: A Guide for the Perplexed. The text looks interesting and it will go on the reading list though that list just seems to get longer and longer and time is still pretty precious (though I am trying to work on that).
This whole general idea sort of grabbed me. There has been from time to time a rather big discussion about what is church. Is it the megachurch campus or just the little church on the corner, or is it meeting at Starbucks or whatever may be the favored gathering place. My question about all of this, thinking about the five elements suggested by Jensen and Wilhite (the church must be externally focused), why? The term currently in favor is missional. Maybe just maybe a gentle push back on this idea of intentional missional focus – that is always outward.
While I agree with this idea that the church is not about me and serving me and such things, I am not sure consistently and constantly pointing outward really captures the essence of what we call church. Of course there is a huge pull affecting what we commonly call church by the world that inserts this idea of radical individualism and the idea of being missional rightly steps up to deflect that pull. Not that the church goes overtly or intentionally by such an oddly shaped gospel if you will but we learn it every day in this age and in this place and we carry it with us when we go to church and make decisions about church and such things. But over the last decade or so there has been so much talk about being missional, being focused outward, being people of the community – rightly so.
But (isn’t there always a but) pointing outward exclusively seems sort of falling short – not the full Gospel message. For me the church also serves as sanctuary. Now I don’t mean sanctuary in the sense that it is the place where God resides or comes when there is worship or whatever and however you see sanctuary as a place. Rather, I see sanctuary as yes the place where God is at but also it is a place of safety and peace and healing.
If we are in fact being a church of the local – and I take that to mean our mission field is the community we find ourselves in, then it is likely we will encounter people in that community that are in need – physically, emotionally and spiritually. And even if we are able to bring them into church space, the need for healing isn’t over. We can join together and be shaped together as a community to listen to God, but going into this with an idea that we must be focused intentionally to always look outward creates a tension I think that may be working against that idea of being shaped. And an equally important concern – there are likely people standing next to you in that church who are hurting as well (A Story).
How we do that is a hard question. Surely this is not something that calls for creation of programs or a system – that strikes me as such a westernized ideal and may allow that radicalized individualism and corporate view overpower this church again. Rather maybe the response is to see that being missional people of God has both an outside and an inside view, that being people of grace is both an external and an internal call.
What do you think?
Be blessed and be a blessing.