Jack Miller wrote a book entitled “Outgrowing the Ingrown Church”. I’ve only just read the first chapter, but merely reflecting on the title has proven convicting and challenging.
Churches easily become ingrown. They easily become self-focused. They easily slip into “maintenance-mode” and “survival-mode” instead of having a sense of urgency and mission. Both corporately and individually, we easily adopt a “me-centered” attitude and focus on comfort rather than risk, security rather than sacrifice, passivity rather than initiative, distance and separation rather than immersion, and the needs and wants of self rather than the needs and wants of others. Being ingrown means idolizing comfort and being ruled by fear. Being outward-looking means being willing to disrupt comfort, routine, and established relationships for the sake of others. Basically, “outward-looking” simply means “loving”.
Being “ingrown” is like having bad breath: everyone notices except you. And, when you do notice, it’s less offensive to you than to those around you. An ingrown church is the same. It’s felt a mile away by those on the outside. When visitors come to an ingrown church, they will not feel welcome. They will sense exclusiveness and feel that they won’t be able to “break in”.
If it is easy to become ingrown, then we have to be constantly on guard against it. And, we have to press into our weaknesses and step out of our comfort-zones. This is not easy. But, we have Jesus as our example. The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) is a wonderful picture of what it means to be outward-looking & loving: willing to step into the world of someone who is on the outside, and willing to find common ground with one who is utterly different. In fact, the gospel itself is a picture of God stepping out, entering in, and risking and sacrificing for us, who were separated from him and had nothing to offer him. Let’s pray that Redeemer Church represents our loving, outward-looking God.