Sometimes it strikes me as odd the way church culture becomes a science, mostly because in my mind things should just come organically. We come together to love on God and care for each other. How complicated can it be? Well, check out the Leadership shelf at your local Christian book store, or click on a google search about it ... yeah, not so simple.
My husband is the lead pastor of Crossroads Church, which he (we?) planted in 2007. From the start we knew it was to be for the purpose of reaching the lost in this community. Okay, that was Christian-ese, so let me put it this way: we started a new church to tell people who weren't yet following Christ about Him and invite them to know His love and walk in His good plan for life. (Eh, that was slightly better.) One more try - I'll let our mission statement speak for itself: "Crossroads Church is committed to create authentic followers of Christ who alter their world through loving relationships with God and others." Our slogan is "Alter Your World" ... I like to think we do.
photo credit Naveen Michael
But we're a small church. Actually, one of our members calls us an "itty bitty church." That's debatable. I'll estimate our adherence to around 125; you can call us what you like. Regardless, I believe we have big influence.
Here are a few examples:
- we have an active ministry to our local prison, where virtually every time one of our team members visits to lead a church service or Bible study, inmates receive Christ as their Savior and commit to follow Him. If and when the inmates are released - they occasionally come find us on a Sunday morning for worship and discipleship.
- we regularly visit our local strip club and offer love and the Gospel to the dancers and bouncers who work there. When they find a hunger for God, they come to us. The leader of this ministry told my husband that on their facebook page, they "liked" our church's page. I don't know about you, but that seriously speaks volumes to me.
- our children and youth serve on a regular basis at three nursing homes and the local youth shelter, where these people can't come to "church," but we bring Jesus to them.
- we have a van ministry of people who are willing to go and pick up the people who are unable to drive themselves and their families to church on Sundays.
- we have taken teams to foreign countries to reach people with the Good News who otherwise would not have heard it
I have many more examples, but I run the risk of boasting in "us" ... so I'll let those speak, and re-focus your worship on Him with this - without Jesus as a constant guide to my husband and our leadership, we would not be able to do any of these things. Jesus tells us to go and reach outward. Over and over, again and again, with relentless reminders, encouragement, and His strength. In a consumer society where most people think church is just another thing to be consumed, Jesus reminds us constantly that the Church is God's people proclaiming His goodness. He is the light, and we are flashlight vessels, purposed to shine into dark places.
"The greatest challenge for the smaller church is to remain significant in the community." - David Campbell, lead pastor of Timbo Valley Assembly of God in Enrichment Journal: Spring 2013 [Small Church, Big Impact]We have found a trend during our 13 years of ministry ... people don't usually need much help looking inward. When you get a hold of Jesus, it's comfortable, rewarding, and natural to care for fellow sheep. They tend to have similar interests, like Bible study and singing songs together and eating together. It's even pretty natural for them to care for one another when they are hurting, though that does require a bit of leadership and instruction. If left to drift, we will most likely drift inward. With minimal encouragement and guidance, the sheep will care for and about one another. Which is why a pastor and his leadership team must continue to point and lead them outward.
A church member recently told me, "I wish I could just tell everyone that church is not just about coming to church and sitting there." I had to laugh. Coming from me or my husband, that statement means one thing. Coming from a sheep it's an whole other entity. It's this: I think people may truly be getting [and living] what we've been preaching for nearly six years!
Some balance here, before you think me heartless for people in the pews (that's an inside joke - we don't have pews - we meet in a movie theater): we don't want to communicate to our flock that their needs don't matter. In our outward focus, we never want to lose sight of family. Church is family to us. (That could be why when people leave it feels like abandonment or divorce - I don't know the answer to that one yet.) We love them and we hold them accountable to loving one another. And many people do need to come to church and just sit. Especially if they've been hurt by Christians before. Or if they've never been to church before. So, there is a time for that. Trust is earned, largely. And in many hearts, we have a long way to go before they will trust us enough to let us point them out. People's felt needs matter. Their spiritual health matters.
Community matters. I should know - I lead the small group ministry. We call it Life Groups, and we like to say we "Do Life Together." It's probably the most "inward" thing we do as a church. But even in creating this family-like community where people can find growth, trust, intimacy, and healing ... we still are also reaching out. We invite others to be a part of these groups, keeping an open-chair mentality, and we are always encouraging people to share with those who don't yet know Christ that they are welcome to come and check Him out - at a small group or on a Sunday. Healthy Life Groups will be growing spiritually and numerically. Outreach has quite a bit to do with both. In a research study on this topic it was found that:
"Groups that saw their purpose as primarily about reaching out to others were exactly twice as likely to report the highest levels of spiritual vibrancy, compared with those that saw their primary purpose as spiritual growth." -Josh Hunt in Make Your Small Group Grow: Simple Stuff That Really WorksSo what? "What do you want me to do with this, Robyn?" you ask ...
How about this -
1. If you're in ministry as a pastor, a pastor's wife, or a team leader within a church - take a deep breath and realize we'll most likely always be fighting this uphill battle to keep our churches focused outward, so let Jesus help you every steep step. This is a battleground where Satan would absolutely love to trick us into thinking church is all about dressing up in our suits and looking pretty for one another. The Truth is this:
"For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost." -Luke 10:19 (NLT)
Following Christ means we do the same and we teach our flock how to do that too. I can not make it any more simple.
2. If you are attending or belong to a church, follow your shepherd when he goes out. Pray for your heart to grow in love for the lost. Know that church is not a building or a place, but God's people coming together to adore Him and proclaim His goodness to those who don't yet know Him or love Him. Receive wholeness and healing from Christ and His word, and remember that once you have received it, you will be going out.
"You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." - 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 (NLT)
Light's purpose is only fulfilled in the darkness. The Good News is only news to those who have not yet heard or believed.
We are the church when we reach out.