Lessons in the Outward Focused Church

Last month one of my heroes in the faith, Steve Sjogren, asked me to write a few articles for him. The first one is for his “Serve” ezine that he publishes. It is sent out to outward focused, servant evangelists all over the world. He asked me to write some practical things that I had learned about the outward focused church. Here is my first draft. Help me out by telling me what you think.

Lessons in The Outward Focused Church

Its been twelve years since we moved to Western Kentucky with the goal of planting an ‘outward focused’ church. Nine months in we were a part of a team of 12 outward focused people.

Today Four Rivers is a 4 campus congregation spreading throughout Western Kentucky. We connect with 500 – 600 people per weekend and have seen our people and leaders assist in the planting of 6 other churches in the last 12 years. Four Rivers is truly an outward focused church. But, it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t even been steady. And honestly, it has been nothing like I expected it would be.

During the past 12 years we have had our predictions challenged. We have faced disappointment… mainly caused by our own misguided expectations. And we have learned many things.

A Few Things I’ve Learned… About Being An Outward Focused Pastor

There is a constant tendency toward the inward.

This one is an overarching reality that I never expected. I assumed that reaching larger groups of people would solidify our outward focus. But the truth is, the disconnected and ‘far from God’ people we reach with an outward mission have their very own ‘inward’ tendencies. With every new person comes a new beginning of teaching this mission. And sometimes, the road to spiritual growth mistakenly leads people down a road of self focus.

We have learned to check regularly the outward focused pulse of the church. It is a daunting task and can sometimes bring disappointment. But by looking at where we really are, we know how to honestly lead. And this is required of anyone who desires to lead an outward focused church long-term.

The Lion and the Lamb.

The Lion and the Lamb metaphor is usually used with ‘end time’ discussions. But we have found that it is very helpful for us in today’s ministry. As a church of multi ethnicities, age groups and socio economic groups our diversity makes us stronger. But it also requires us to lead wisely. It takes many things to get a lamb to lay down with a lion.

First, you need a lion that stops acting like a predator. Second, you need a lamb who will believe that the lion isn’t a lion any more. And third, you need an ongoing relationship with behaviors that reinforce those beliefs.

You are interested in helping your community… but folks don’t believe that. You’re a church leader. That makes you a lion to many. They feel lamb-like and you look hungry for their time, money & talents. To reach them, you have some perceptions and maybe realities to change.

Keep the vision ‘visible.’

There is a reason that the Bible uses a ‘visible’ word to describe the church’s meta narrative. But many church leaders convey ‘vision’ in a purely ‘audible’ or ‘hearing’ based way. We have noticed that people need to see an outward focused vision. They can’t just hear it described.

So we have learned to keep the vision visible. We regularly put people in front of the gathering to show and tell their stories of life change. This means so much more than a sermon about why we should reach out. We cannot simply tell the mission… we have to show it.

Know Your Bible… Know Your Back Yard…

Christian leaders everywhere understand the need to be aware of and guided by the Scripture. But Christianity is more than a set of rules, regulations or guidelines. There is an awareness and intuitiveness of our faith that requires that we know both our belief systems & our local culture. We can’t expect to focus outward if we are not well aware of what is out there.

And to be clear, I absolutely do not mean this from a judgmental perspective. Knowing your back yard is so much more than knowing what is wrong with your back yard. In fact, there are many times that we have to look outside of the church in order to find some of the most exciting things that God is doing in our culture. Find Him there and join Him in the outward focused ministry that He has already begun.

These are just a few of the many things that planting and leading an outward focused church has taught me. Although it has been difficult, I am very thankful to God for this journey. I hope that my ramblings have helped you as well.