Not yet members
It seems that it is very easy for believers to become very inwardly focused. I am not speaking about a bent toward contemplative self-examination like mystics would engage in. Because it is what proceeds out of the heart of a man that defiles him, certainly some of that is beneficial. Rather, what I speak of is individual Christians and churches focusing inwardly in the sense that most time, energy, creativity, and money is expended on internal needs or worse, internal wants. The local church really ought to lay hold of the idea that the church does not exist for itself. First of all the church belongs to Christ and exists to bring pleasure, honor, and glory to Him. Second, the church exists not for those who are members, but rather for those who are not yet members.
Christ’s final instructions recorded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1, plainly tell Christians that they are to be actively seeking the lost, sharing the good news found in Christ, and teaching the new converts all that Christ commanded. Your church and my church, the local expressions of the world-wide church, made up of all who have trusted Christ, should be focused like a laser beam on those who are not yet members. Our decisions about where to worship, how to worship, when to worship, what activities to offer, how to spend money, what ministries to be involved in, etc. ought to be dictated by the best method to reach out to the lost, i.e. those who are not yet members.
We ought to ignore the subtle yet strong urge to please ourselves. We ought to cooperate with others who trust in Christ. Local associations, state conventions, national conventions, para-church ministries can all be great allies in our efforts to reach the lost. Reaching the lost, denying ourselves, and cooperating with other believers direct glory to God.
Acts 11:19-30 is a case study of this type of thinking by the believers in Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Syria. Antioch seemed to be near the center of this activity. It is in this passage that we are told that disciples of Christ were first called Christians at Antioch. This seems to indicate to me that we ought to carefully examine this passage looking for characteristics of Christians. Why else would that fact be recorded here or anywhere in the Bible for that matter? Believers from several locations, obviously in several different local churches are shown to be a virtual beehive of activity. They were actively involved in sharing the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles. Apparently those who were well suited to reach Jews shared with Jews and others who were well suited to share with Gentiles shared with Gentiles. Large numbers believed and turned to the Lord. The Christians in these local churches then turned their attention to teaching and training these new converts. They even found a little time to encourage each other to stay true to the Lord. When they found out about a famine that was about to hit Judea, they took up a collection and delivered it to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
It seems to me that we can learn a lot from Acts 11:19-30. The church is not a country club. Country clubs exist for the pleasure and comfort of its members. Churches exist to direct glory to God by refusing to focus on our needs/wants, cooperating with others in seeking out the lost, sharing the gospel, teaching new converts all that Christ commanded, encouraging others, and helping to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters regardless of their location. Everyone who has been adopted into God’s family automatically becomes a brother or sister to every other believer, no matter where they live.
Pastor Steve Ellison is Camp Administrator at Ouachita Baptist Assembly near Mena and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to the Mena Star for sending Pastor Ellison's columns to First Arkansas News.