Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why is it So Hard to Get Christians to Focus Outward?

OK, OK, it isn't, at least for some/many Christians. And we have to make clear what is meant be "focusing outward" and how that gets assessed. So let's do that.

What do you think "focusing outward" means/looks like? Where you observe Christians having difficulty in "focusing outward," what observations would you make about them (us)--the kind of people, ethnic group, age, other demographic, church type, etc.? And conversely, where you see good examples of outward-focusing Christians (regardless of the "size" of what they're doing), what do you see serving, motivating, sustaining that outward focusing?

25 comments:

Joseph Holbrook said...

I think Jamie Johnson's Boy with a Ball team provide a pretty good example of being outward focused. That is probably why a lot of young people are drawn to them.

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John M. said...

I agree that the narcissism Joseph referred to on the other thread exists, but I think that a lot of believers are becoming more outward focused.
But I'm not so sure that it's as simple as it looks on the surface.
For most of us, work, family, finances etc., consume our lives and we’re maxed with what is already on our plate, making us reluctant to take initiate new relationships.

If one has an apostolic/evangelistic gift, (which I believe Joseph and Jamie have been blessed with) he/she naturally gathers people and relates to strangers in a way that draws them in for a closer look.

I admire people who can do that, but I can't do what they do. I don't draw people together into cohesive groups, nor do people really gravitate to me. The few people that I have influenced into the Kingdom have quite literally dropped into my lap.

When I was John Maxwell's associate pastor back in the '70's in Lancaster, OH, I was amazed at the number of people he could generate in a week's time for me to follow-up on. It was my job to try to get them into the fold after he led them to the Lord. I used to tell him that he needed about a dozen pastors following him around.

He had the title of "Senior Pastor", but he was an apostolic evangelist. [Just look at the churches and organizations he has built since.] Between the two of us we were very fruitful. My new-convert's class was bursting at the seams and we used to baptize 20to 30 people a month. It was awesome.

I never could have gathered those people myself, but once he attracted them with his gift, I could put my gift to work and help them begin their journey with Jesus. He kept me hopping but I never lacked new prospects for my growing flock of "new converts".

My point. I can't do what Joseph and Jamie [and John] do. I've sincerely tried. I have a "vision" for it (more like a "wish-dream), but it doesn't happen.

When I do gather people, they are inevitably believers. After we've been together awhile, instead of forming a cohesive community, they start spinning off into other places, churches and ministries.

I have some marvelous comrades who can accomplish incredible things and plant/build churches and organizations and organically network people into communities.
I have helped numerous people pastorally, encouraged them, counseled them, taught them etc. And I’ve had the privilege of mentoring some promising young leaders, but I’ve never planted a church or “built” anything. I have never "apostleized" anyone and I have "evangelized" only a very few who showed up on my door step.

I am more outward focused than I have ever been. I get an incredible vicarious kick out of Joseph's and Jamie's updates. If I were where they are, I would love to hang out with them and the people they attract. But left to myself it doesn't happen.

We have "differing gifts." Many times we get frustrated with others because they don't do what we do, when, in fact they can't. Our default programming is different than theirs.

My presumption is that that is part of Joseph's frustration. What his default wiring does, he expects everyone else to do with the same natural ease that he does.

Why is the apostolic/evangelistic gift so rare? If it's not rare, it sure is latent. Perhaps they are out there in sales or building their own businesses -- still part of the "harvest" – or they have burned out and given up?

Many of us have reverted to doing our thing pretty much independently because we seem to have been alienated by circumstances or choice from the teams/chruches/communities we were formally part of. I don't know the answer... Any, light or wisdom out there?

Joseph Holbrook said...

What you say is very true John. Undoubtedly, your gifts and calling are largely “pastoral.”

I think the most natural venue for being outward focused for day-to-day people, lay-people is the work place. This is one reason I want to break into the university setting as a professor.

Nevertheless, along the lines of Charles Simpson’s teaching on internal integrity=outward integration and Bob Mumford’s teaching on Transitive versus Reflexive, there is a problem with Christians becoming inward looking consumers, Ghettoing up and seemingly being incapable of carrying kingdom values into the work place.

steve H said...

Even a pastor can focus his service outward.

Some may recall me telling about a season when I was highly involved with unbelievers at an auto repair shop. I had been challenged by what Paul wrote to Timothy, who is usually considered to have been a pastor -- "do the work of an evangelist." I said to the Lord, not really expecting an answer, "How do I do that?"

Surprise! I found myself with a strong thought, so strong and so different that I think it was the Lord speaking. "Get involved with some goats and trust me to make them into sheep" (a word picture found in Matt. 25, by the way).

I obeyed, and my time hanging out at the auto repair shop became one of the most memorable times in my life so far.

Why don't we have more outward focus? I agree that the reasons already mentioned all have truth. I do think we tend to be self-focused and internal focused in large part because we have been influenced by an "evangelical piety and doctrine" that focuses on personal salvation and personal growth.

Additionally, many of us on this blog were involved in a group that emphasized relationships and community among believers. And it was right to do so. God is, indeed, after building his people, his community as a corporate witness of his kingdom.

However, the community easily focuses on itself (just like individuals do) and becomes an end in itself, instead of offering itself as a "living sacrifice" to the mission of the kingdom.

John M. said...

I think you know that I agree with you Joseph. But those without your gifting, indluding me, can sometimes beat themselves up because they admire what you're doing and feel like they're not able to duplicate it.

Each of us needs to catch a vision of how we can use our own gifts to be outward focused. I'll share an example of how it works for me.

We moved into a new neighborhood several years ago and connected with neighbors across the street.
My natural way of reaching beyond our initial friendship was to pastor.

I visited a step-dad in the hospital and later was asked to perform his funeral. That led to other interactions with extended family and eventually Mom's funeral.

I didn't realize, thought, how I was viewed until my neighbor introduced me as "his pastor" to a family member I hadn't met. He even came to me for marriage counseling. Here I was pastoring him and his family and he hadn't yet made a "commitment to Christ".

A counselor friend who I recommended to him and his wife, later prayed with him to commit his life to Christ.

That describes my primary way of connecting with people. I just start treating them as if they were a fellow follower of Jesus and relating to them as a brother or sister in Christ.

We can love and befriend, by being ourselves and knowing that he loves and cares for them much more deeply than we do. He will bring others into their lives with the gifts they need at the time they're needed.

Many people would be intimidated to try doing what is natural for me. But everyone has their own individual abilities and gifts that they can use to serve others and show others God's love.

That's kind of the point, right?

John M. said...

Hey Steve,
I remember that season well! Steve's friendship with those guys had an impact on the church community we were both part of at the time. A lot of us got our cars fixed and the owner and his shop was blessed with increased business as we sent our friends to him -- not to mention the spiritual blessings that were shared all around.

It's interesting how our posts complimented each other in topic and without consultation.

Joseph, if any of our younger friends are reading, I hope they're not put off by all our [especially mine] "Christianese". When I wrote my other posts I found it difficult not to revert to traditional terms.

John M. said...

Somebody say something about gay sex or something. This one's tapering off before it ever starts!

Why is it so hard to get people to comment on a question like, "Why is it So Hard to Get Christians to Focus Outward?"

Uh, Brian, should that be "outwardly"? Maybe we can get a hot discussion going about proper grammer, spelling and punctuation in electronic media... or should that be "on"?

Wait! I just figured it out. Everyone is glued to their TV in order to get their wagers in before the Derby starts -- you know that little 2 minute horse race they have in Louisville on the first Sat. of May?

Here's a topic. Joseph, you'll like this one. "Should a Pastor take a break from watching pron while he's preparing his Sunday sermon, in order to place a bet on the Derby?"

Oh, I forgot. Any self-respecting Pastor would never bet on a horse-race, right?

This is what happens when there is silence on the blog and I start having a conversation with myself. Scarey... Someone better get in here and save me from my sinful satire. I think I'm about to commit brainicide or mind-a-carey.

Wait! One more idea. Brian and Joseph, you could kick me off the blog (or at least this thread) and then all the masses out there who lurk and don't post could have a heated discussion about whether or not John should have been banned a long time ago!

P.S. I've already had my medicine, so it can't be that.

Joseph Holbrook said...

1) initiating socially and reaching out to meet new people goes against the grain of most people's personalities. We are inherently tribal ... once we find our primary group, circle of friendship, posse, homeboys, homegirls, household (oikos), people normally want to stay where they feel secure. Koininitus ... close relational and community ties militate against outreach ... this was even true of the best church that ever existed, the Pentecostal Church of Jersusalem: see Acts 8:1-8

2) Contemporary evangelicalism spends years pounding into people's heads that they need to participate in meetings. Most churches invent activities and meetings to meet needs and keep the sheep from wandering into other pastures.

... and then we wonder why it is hard to get Christians to focus outward? The church is giving mixed signals ... "focus outward, but not THAT Much! don't miss Sunday morning, prayer meeting, housechurch, youth group, men's group and Saturday morning servant evangelism"

Steve's church is an exception of course ...

At the national level, this is paralleled by Conference Christianity.

Brian Emmet said...

As per Joseph's observation, maybe our question should have been why it's hard to get humans to focus outwardly...but Christians ought to be better, so that's no help. John touched on the cultural pressures: when so many are so consumed with "the basics" of life, earning a living, dealing with the stresses and stressors of contemporary life, there's little vision, time, or energy for much else. We're also in a "gesture-oriented" culture: we feel like we have "done something" when we make the gesture of signing on to a cause/"taking a stand" via facebook, or even giving money to a worthy cause (Haiti relief).

I also think that, in addition, the world is presenting questions and issues that many believers feel ill-equipped to respond to. They also have not been equipped to simply share their story in a winsome way.

The church in the West also has developed a bit of a persecution complex (as opposed to actually undergoing persecution!) that keeps people back on their defensive heels. I suspect there may be a gathering storm of genuine persecution coming...but even if that is correct, we should all the more be taking advantage of the current opportunities!

So that's my two-cents worth of diagnosis. Prescription to follow!

CindyC said...

I'm one of the younger folks who is just resurfacing from Sam's last final and the stress that goes with it. Maybe others are entrenched in school and such, too.

Anyway, why....? It may be because Christians have gotten sucked into the typical modern world in which self is first and everyone else is second.

I know in my case, I struggle to keep my head above water in my own home, so it's a bit daunting to look elsewhere to look for others to care for.

Much of what John M said I could echo, (though not with the same depth of experience or profoundness of thought) in that I am not so much of a "go-getter". I seem to do better in befriending the ones who have just been reached.... or the believers who have wandered and need a bit of rehabilitation. And truth be told, I'm lazy, and I'm not a big fan of drama. I like the low-maintenance, easy to love crowd. There, I said it.

On the other hand, whenever I am around the "go-getter" types, I am inspired to go beyond myself more. I've heard someone (I think it was Jamie Johnson, who was quoting someone else) say that the purpose of the gifts (evangelist, teachers, pastors, etc.) is to train the body to practice those gifts.

I think focusing outward is just that: looking beyond myself. I think the one-on-one (or family to family) outreach will speak the most to most people. Reach out to me means to care about and find a way to demonstrate care to my next door neighbor, or to my former coworker, or to my sister-in-law, or to my baby's sitter.

The 'who' and the 'how' aren't the issue so much as whether I am actually extending my heart toward them. And by that I mean extending the Father's heart toward them.

Joseph Holbrook said...

to pick up on my earlier comments; if we truly have received within us the Spirit of Jesus, the one who came down and was incarnated through Mary as a Galilean, and the one who went to the cross for us, how could we think that his life within us would be content focusing inward upon ourselves. If we have received the Spirit, the only way we can not turn outward is to resist the Spirit within us.
Refering again to Acts 8:1, how many of the people who are dropping out of regular church life by droves are in fact being ‘scattered by the Spirit’ in order that they might be led into the marketplace, school, university, hospitals, corporation, art and music world and business in order to ‘preach’ good news. “They went everywhere goodnewsing”

And Cindi, as mother Teresa understood, God always only counts by ones. For him to call you to spend a large chunk of your life focusing on one child, or two is very close to the heart of the kingdom. I only have a handful of individuals that I am influencing very deeply right now … I am having to learn to be patient be faithful in that which is little. I’ve got one guy, who in 3 years has gone from being guarded to loving and open, from being an atheist to being an agnotic and now is a Deist. One by one.

Today a friend of mine a retired pastor in his 60s named Vern Vanderzee came over to my house. We talked for a couple of hours. I learned that his first pastorate was a white church in the middle of Watts in LA in 1966. It was an ethnically Dutch Reformed church … most of the people had moved away but sill attended services in the Ghetto. Vern moved into the town and began walking the streets getting to know his African American neighbors. He and his wife started a Christian ‘gang’ in the local High School
And brought them to church services. They also reached to neighbor kids through VBS. The area was a high crime area … so Vern walked the streets and found out how the power brokers were (the men and women of peace”) and pointed out to them that there was inadequate lighting in the neighborhood. Several of the black neighbors began to talk about initiative to fix the lights. Vern offered his church building as a meeting place for a neighborhood association. Soon, the whole community was coming to his church building to meet to discuss plans for improving the lighting, starting a neighborhood watch, etc, etc. His 300 member church of white people grew down to 50, mostly blacks, and then started to grow back to past 100 as a black church, deeply connected to the neighborhood.

He encouraged the former white members to find new churches in their suburbs to attend, but before the they left, they had a funeral service where they invited the whole surrounding community and celebrated 75 years of fruitful ministry and sent the suburban couples away with their blessing and pronounced the church dead, and announced the birth of a new church, an African-American church connected vitally to the neighborhood. Vern handled this so graciously that many of the white Dutch couples who left to begin worshipping in white churches in the suburbs, continued to send money to support the new church. 44 years later, the small congregation is thriving with 150 members and has a black female pastor who is doing a good job.

Outreach! Healthy Christians who love WILL reproduce....

Brian Emmet said...

So maybe another helpful idea is to recast "outward" as "connecting with one or two" as opposed to "you need to change the world... by last Tuesday!" That could help a lot of people, who already feeling overwhelemd by life, have given up on the idea that God would have any interest in working in and through them.

Go-getters can be really helpful. After all, not all of us are all that good in coming up with great ideas, but we really can help a go-getter actuate his/her good idea. Most fruitful work has one or two or a few at the center and a lot of folk who help make it happen in ways small and, occasionally, large.

Joseph Holbrook said...

of course, the easiest place to form new relationships is in the neighborhood (not all that easy) in the workplace or school, or in any kind of afinity group or interest group.

However, if you are starting from scratch, whatever you do, do it repetively. What I mean by that is go to the same check out aisle with the same check out person every time ...get to know her or his name.

If you are going fishing at a bar, always go to the same bar, on the same night when the same bar-tender is there ... discern the natural social groups and start getting to know their names.

Golfing, fishing, sailing, paint gun sports, art classes, soccer or karate classes for the kids, all of these can provide opportunties. If you have cancer, go to the same pharmicist (Debbie is doing this and made a huge impact on a pregnant pharmicist).

just pick the easiest activity, or the most natural and pray and give the time to God. Be available.

John M. said...

This is GOOD stuff. If more people could internalize what these last few posts have said, there would be a lot of rejoicing going on -- in all different directions -- the "out-reacher", the "out-reached-to" -- and the angels in heaven!

Joseph Holbrook said...

I forgot the most important thing ... always, ALWAYS pray and give your time up to God and tell God that you are willing to "bless" whoever He brings across your path with coffee, lunch, conversation, flowing gifts of the Spirit, explanation of goodnews or whatever the person needs at that moment. God will surprise you and take you oup on it.


focusing on this on a regular basis is a good antidote for cynicism.

John M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John M. said...

This is a good antidote for both cynicism and narcissim. That's good to know, since I have both maladies.

Joseph Holbrook said...

Debbie and I both constantly pray that God will bring people across our path and allow us to bless them and sow seeds of God's love in their lives.

We were flying back from Atlanta a few weeks ago after attending CSM in TN. She and I had the port side middle and window seats around aisle 28.

A young couple came to our aisle and it was evident that they didn’t want to be separated (there were 3 seats in a row). The husband asked me if we were together. I said “yes” but immediately offered to trade seats with him if he wanted to stay with his wife. He thanked me and agreed. Then I found out that he was sitting in first class!

When I got to my first class seat, I started worrying about what would happen if the aircraft developed problems or if we crashed. I couldn’t bear the thought of dying with Debbie but being separated. Nevertheless the decision was made even if I regretted it.

It turns out that the younger wife had a terrible fear of flying and that was why her husband wanted to sit with her. At the end of the flight, Debbie and her began talking and Debbie sensed a spirit-guided conversation about the importance of facing and overcoming fear with God’s help and love. It was a divinely arranged conversation. Debbie shared with her about facing cancer and about her fear of cancer, and how she finally was able to overcome it. Deb encouraged her to allow God to help her with her fear and prayed with her.

Jesus cultivated the habit of always being prepared to sense divine initiative and “knew how to sustain the weary one with a word” (Isa. 50:4) That is the heart of a disciple. I know that many reading this blog have had similar experiences.

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks you, Joseph--most helpful! Others have ideas, experiences, thoughts, questions to contribute to the conversation?

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Joseph Holbrook said...

our chinese friend said: "Life is delicious feast, but others would rather go hungry"

I'm not sure what his point was or how it relates to the conversation, but you did ask if anyone else had something to contribute.

Joseph Holbrook said...

this conversation appears to have end several days ago ... so I started a new post. WWJT?

Billy Long said...

I know you all ended this conversation already, but I just wanted to suggest you check out my article entitled "The Cat and the Rat" on my blog for a good illustration of the need for Christians to focus outward.
http://blongoutofthebox.blogspot.com

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