But there is also a force that moves us to focus outwardly to those around us, sending us out to the people outside the church in our schools, businesses, clubs and families. Again, this is an important part of any healthy church; we are witnesses to Christ and custodians of the good news for our communities.
At the heart of every church lives this tension central to what it is to be church.
However, the problem with tensions is that they are uncomfortable, sometimes very uncomfortable. So what do we do? We try to relieve ourselves of the discomfort by resolving the tension. The best way to resolve a tension is to focus on one of the two directions and forget or remove the other. By having only one focus the tension is relieved.
So sadly, the church relieves the tension of the call of God to be both inwardly and outwardly looking by choosing one or the other.
One of our greatest temptations is focussing inwardly on our buildings, our people and our programs and conveniently forgets that we are called to reach out to the many outside the Church who don’t yet know Jesus. This is perhaps our preferred option. Throughout history it seems we have often resolved it this way.
Despite this inward looking tendency, and perhaps because of it, there are often some who turn to focus almost exclusively on those outside the church. This has often been an important move in the growth of the church through history. It has something restored us to our rightful tension. However, it has also caused much pain. Some people so critical of an inward looking church have sometimes distanced themselves and ultimately have nothing to do with the ‘church’, or form new movements. Sadly, this hasn’t resolved the tension only resulted in two separate movements.
The Church of Jesus Christ is called to a duality: focusing both inwardly and outwardly. It is only as we do both that we are truly his Church. But living in the midst of the tension is not a comfortable place. Tensions never are. That’s one reason why, I suspect, that we are constantly reminded throughout the New Testament of our constant need for the power and presence of God. Without God’s grace we will try to resolve the tension and in doing so we will no longer be the kind of church Jesus died for.
May Jesus grant us his grace and power to be His church in this place as he designed and called us to be.
Stephen L Baxter