I’ve been home from General Conference 2016 (GC 2016) for exactly one week. As I began to unpack my suitcases (yes I just got around to that), I also began to “unpack” my thoughts and feelings. I turned the clock back in my mind to that day in June when I was elected to be a delegate for GC 2016 and as the conference grew nearer I became more and more anxious about all I would be representing ….the CTC, the South District, the UMW, my local church and of course my family. You see….I’ve always been that person that reads the entire instructions before using a new toy, tool, gadget or software. All the many letters, newsletters, books and magazines received from various individuals / groups promoting personal causes / issues to be addressed at GC 2016 were placed in a binder and sorted by the corresponding petition, resolution number or subject. (Some call this nerdy) Giving God my best was my goal and the names and faces of all the people I represented were etched in my brain and there were great expectations…..of me, by me.
They say expectations can be high, low, reasonable, unreasonable, good or bad. The bible references expectations of redemption (Romans 8:19), expectations of judgment (Hebrews 10:27), delayed expectations (Proverbs 13:12a), realized expectations (Proverbs 13:12b) and unrealized expectations (Proverbs 11:7). As we broke into our assigned legislative committees a road was forged where I would ultimately experience every form of expectation before going home. Throughout the deliberations and discussions there seemed to be two groups at work; one fully dedicated in doing God’s work and what was “best” for the church overall and one that seemed equally interested in what was best for “them” personally. Most evenings I left filled with more questions and less hope. This became the focus of my evening prayers …. for insight and vision without being judgmental. For all to remember why we were there and remember to whom we belonged became the greatest expectation for me. The struggle with the daily issues became clear as I read these words; “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.” Psalm 62:5 (HCSB)
Most churches are pretty good at taking care of our people. We offer a comfortable worship service where we sing familiar songs or hymns. We organize Sunday school classes to help people learn more about Christianity and the Bible. Many of us even politely greet unfamiliar people who happen through our church’s door on Sunday morning. These efforts are commendable, but God calls us to more. Too often, we attempt to live out our faith while confined within the walls of our church’s building. What would it look like if we were to turn our churches inside out?
In their book, The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson challenge church leaders (both lay and clergy) to invite people to meaningful service in the broader community. Through service, existing members will grow spiritually as well as establish relationships with those who might not know God’s love or be connected to a faith community. Rusaw and Swanson point out that Christians need more than spiritual sustenance to grow—we need to be challenged to put into action that which we believe (or think we believe). Most of us know that a good diet alone will not keep our physical bodies healthy. We also need exercise. Similarly, our churches provide us with a good spiritual diet, but we need to go outside to practice our faith. Living as a Christian in church is very different from living as a Christian in the broader community.
Through addressing community needs through service, we’ll also begin to form meaningful relationships with people who might not know Jesus’s love and forgiveness. Such relationships create bridges by which people may enter into Christian community. After all, few unchurched people will come into a church without a connection. No matter how friendly we think we are, others find our churches rather intimidating.
As we turn our churches inside out, we’ll live out our Christian calling more faithfully. In the United Methodist Church, we have a shared mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. If we maintain an internal focus, we’ll fail to reach or be relevant to those whom Jesus wants to follow him. How would being an inside out church change your community?