For those who are not yet members
It is very easy for believers to become almost totally inwardly focused. I am not speaking about contemplative self-examination like mystics would engage in. Rather, what I speak of is individual Christians and their churches focusing inwardly in the sense that most time, energy, effort, 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. Furthermore, the church exists not for those who are members, but rather for those who are not yet members.
The Resurrected Christ’s final instructions to us are recorded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1. He plainly tells us that we are to be actively seeking the lost, sharing the good news about forgiveness 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 most effective 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. Sharing the gospel with the lost, denying ourselves, and cooperating with other believers is perhaps the best way to 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. This passage tells us that disciples of Christ were first called Christians at Antioch. This indicates 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 own needs/wants, and instead 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. The church exists to proclaim the glory of God by inviting others in and not to satisfy me.
Pastor Steve Ellison is the director of the Ouachita Theological Training Institute in Mena, Ark.