Thursday, March 10, 2005

Outside the Walls

Sign broken, come inside for message.

Recently, while driving past a local church, I read the preceding message on their sign. "Hmm, clever," I thought. But as I kept driving and thinking, I began to question their method of outreach to the community.

Are people really going to come in just because the church boasts a sign with a witty saying? With cars whizzing by at an average of about 60mph, the sign has a maximum of about ten seconds to capture the drivers' attention and thought. In this short window of opportunity, is this the impression we really want to leave? That the saving message of the gospel must be heard inside the walls of the church?

Granted, there is no harm in a little invitation to the service, but I fear that the mentality exhibited on the sign has become an ideology within the body today. Many times, when we say "outreach" or "evangelism," what we really mean is bringing someone into the sanctuary, plopping them on a pew next to us, and pummeling them with music, teaching, prayer, and exposing them to all the "feel-good" amenities that our churches offer today.

I don't know how many of us realize this, but most of the people being won to Christ throughout the world aren't responding to the gospel while listening to a church congregation mumble a rendition of the 1st, 3rd, 5th verses of "Just as I am" toward the end of the service. No, people are being saved in the rainforests and the deserts, in the mountains and in the valleys, in the frozen tundra and in tropical regions, any many other places God is moving throughout the four corners of the earth. God is making straight paths in the wilderness, raining down his love on barren lands, sowing seed for a great harvest.

Along with all this, he is preparing the way for his people to move outside the walls of our church buildings that have confined us for much too long. He is calling us to realize how we have misunderstood the task of the body of Christ. In the New Testament, the church is the body of Christ, a house of living stones being built into a glorious temple with Christ as its cornerstone (see 1 Peter 2). It is comprised of believers who spur one another on with the common goal of the kingdom's advancement.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that all unbelievers should be shut out of the church. Nor am I saying that we should not proclaim the gospel within the confines of our church buildings. But I am suggesting that the primary function of the church is to edify Christians and to prepare them for ministry, much of which should take place outside its walls. The central idea has always been to win souls to Christ as we go and after their conversion, to bring them into the church for discipleship.

Paul didn't wait idly for the world to come to him. He went out to preach the freedom of the gospel and to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). During the time of the early church, God didn't "add to their number daily" so that unbelievers would be exposed to the gospel (see Acts). Those being added were the fruits of the apostles' faithful preaching outside the church. When they went out, God brought the harvest in!

For the sake of Jesus' name, we must realize that God's work does not stop at the doors to the sanctuary. Contrary to the way we've lived for so long, we must understand that going outside beginning of ministry. Only then will our joyous lives--not our signs--be the advertisements that draw people not into a building, but into an adventurous and loving relationship with their Creator.

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