It’s 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
1. There is a constant tendency toward the inward.
This one is an overarching reality I never expected. I assumed 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 for an extended period of time.
2. The Lion and the Lamb.
The Lion and the Lamb metaphor is usually used with ‘end time’ discussions. But we have found 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 is good. And third, you need an ongoing relationship with behaviors that reinforce those beliefs. You may be interested in helping your community… but many people do not believe you. You are 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 possible realities to change.
3. 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 people need to see an outward focused vision in order to grasp it.
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.
4. 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 He has already begun.
These are just a few of the many things 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.