outsiders

Redesigning Church - Part 2

“Outsiders think Christianity no longer represents what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.”~ David Kinnaman ~

The early church began with a strong outsider focus. In fact, right after the 120 were filled with the Holy Spirit in the upper room in Acts 2:1, they immediately hit the streets boldly preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. Peter was their first leader and primary spokesperson. This once insecure man who cowardly denied even knowing Jesus only weeks before to a questioning servant girl, stood up boldly on the day of Pentecost and preached with clarity and passion and three thousand became believers on the spot.

The church in Jerusalem grew quickly. Experts project that within the first year or two, the church numbered around 14,000. They had momentum and power. But Peter had a habit of repeatedly reminding the Jews in his sermons that they were responsible for killing the promised Messiah, Jesus. This habit, as you can imagine, greatly angered the non-believing Jews and they had Peter and John arrested in Acts 3.

Now, imagine the scenario with me for a minute. Peter and John were the two senior leaders of this now thriving, fast growing church. They were the pastors, mentors, and spiritual authorities of this 14,000 member city congregation. To have both of them arrested at the same time was extremely devastating, I imagine especially to the new believers. Even the original 120 had to be terrified as it was only months after they had personally witnessed Jesus' arrest and eventual crucifixion.

So, how did they respond? In the same way you and I would respond. They called a corporate prayer meeting to intercede on behalf of Peter and John. Yet, what they prayed was so drastically different than what I imagine I would have prayed in the same scenario that it bears taking notice. Had I experienced similar circumstances, I would pray for Peter and John's safe return. I'd pray for protection over our church and especially over my own family. I'd beg God to save us from persecution. But that's not what they prayed! Look what they prayed.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." Acts 4:29 (NIV)

They prayed for more boldness! I don't think boldness was their greatest need. Boldness was why Peter and John had been arrested in the first place.

This verse so convicts me because as I reflect on the majority of my prayers I have to admit I pray mostly for myself, my family, and the people within my church. My prayers are insider focused and not outsider focused like those of the early church. If I was to be completely honest, my main motive for praying is to protect what I already have. Yet the early church didn't pray a protection type prayer. They're focus was on the outsiders, on those they had yet to reach. They weren't driven by fear of losing what they had gained, they were driven by the mandate Jesus had given them to preach the good news to in Jerusalem first, then to Judea, and then to the rest of the earth. This stern focus, even in the midst of a trial, is the reason the church made it out of the first century and why Christianity is still alive and thriving on our planet today.

What if the church today were to focus more on those we are trying to reach than on those we are trying to keep?

Question: When was the last time you asked God for boldness to speak His Word to an unchurched friend?

Redesigning Church - Part 1

Can you imagine what the Apostle Paul must have looked like towards the end of his life. I mean what would his physical appearance be after having been flogged within an inch of his life 3 times, stoned and assumed dead, ship wrecked, and imprisoned in some of the worst dungeons imaginable? He must have been quite the sight! Which makes his dialogue with King Agrippa in Acts 26 that much more interesting.

Paul was a man who had a life most would be jealous of. He was a leading Pharisee, well respected, well paid, well educated, and on his way to the top when he gave it all up. He went from prestige and respect to being persecuted, imprisoned, and rejected by all. King Agrippa needed to know why!

Here is Paul's answer.

“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." Acts 26:19-20 (NKJV)

It's interesting to me that Paul uses the term "the heavenly vision." I think is speaking about much more than the fact that he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. I think he is referring to the instructions themselves as the vision of heaven. In other words, what Jesus told him on that day was Heaven's vision statement. It was the mandate of Heaven to the church and that this cause was what drove Paul to live the life he was living and why he was standing before King Agrippa right now. Listen to how he describes this heavenly vision in verse 17 and 18 from the Message Bible.

"I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I'm sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me." Acts 26:17-18 (Msg)

Did you catch it? “I’m sending you to the outsiders." This is still heaven's vision for the church today.

In his book UnChristian, David Kinnaman, a researcher for the Barna Group wrote: “Outsiders think Christianity no longer represents what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.”

Do you think he is right? Do you think we have lost the heavenly vision that Paul willing sacrificed his life for? Have we become so insider focused that we no longer represent what Jesus had in mind for the church?

I believe the natural drift of every local church is to focus on it's insiders. I believe it takes intentional effort on the part of the churches leadership to remain focused on the outsiders.

I am going to start a series of blogs on how to Redesign our churches for the purpose of keeping true to the heavenly vision. Stay tuned!

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