I am both captivated and frustrated at this painting by Vincent VanGogh called the Church at Auvers.
In it, VanGogh expresses his church experience, and I suspect the experience of many others through history. I don't know if you can notice anything missing on this lovely little church. Do you see the key detail? There's no door. The church is closed to anyone on the outside. Church is a beautiful idea, but with no way for him to get in. There might as well be a sign hanging on the window saying, "no entry."
We have a core value at Grace Church called "Outward Focus." Here is how that value is stated:
The stakes are high. Our hearts will beat fast, our hands will be busy, and our wallets will be open for those who are far from God.
It is a constant reminder that the church doesn't just exist for itself; it also exists for those who are far from God. The people outside the walls are just as important to us as those inside the walls.
This doesn't lessen the focus inside the walls. Churches are filled with people who need to be discipled. Hurting members need genuine concern and care. Healthy, loving relationships among those inside the church are a critical component of the life of a church. But it's easy to lose our outward focus and become preoccupied with the perceived needs and desires of the members. Dollars, time, and energy can quickly become consumed by the demands of the insiders.
Of all the amazing things that God wants his people to do while on this earth, there is only one of those things that we won't be able to continue in heaven. Think about it — the church is called to worship; we'll be able to also do that in heaven. The church is called to have fellowship with one another; we'll be able to do that in heaven. We're called to use our gifts, to care, to love, to lead; all these things we will be able to continue for all eternity. The thing we will no longer be able to do when we get to heaven is to reach people far from God and extend to them the hope of Christ's salvation. That endeavor has been commanded for and limited to this lifetime. That's why there is an urgency to our outreach.
And yet, it is difficult. The church has struggled with this value throughout history because the gravitational pull of churches is always more and more inward. Especially as a church gets older. When a church first starts out, it is necessary to reach out, knock on doors, send out invitations, advertise on local media, and build a base with newer folks. But once that group is established, the motivation to bring new people in goes way down. Now everyone is comfortable. They have their friend group, and no one else is needed. This series of blog posts has to do with why we're outward focused.