I’ve come to love the story of Basil the Great. He was bishop of Caesarea in the late 4th century. Basil earned his fame as a staunch defender of the Nicene creed, what most of us know as the traditional teaching about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He worked tirelessly to oppose the teachings of those who saw Jesus as a created being. One of these opponents was the Roman emperor Valens, who banished Basil from the Roman empire on several occasions (though Basil paid no mind to the decrees).
Important though such work was, Basil’s greatest legacy was the Basiliad, the huge hospital/orphanage/hospice/poor house that was built outside of Caesarea. When Emperor Valens came to Caesarea to confront Basil face to face, he was so impressed by Basil’s work that he donated imperial land for expansions to the Basiliad.
When Basil died, Gregory of Nazianzus declared, “His words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.”
I love that imagery. I’d love to have it said of me. I’d love to have it said of the church. Words like thunder backed by a life like lightning; that’s what the church needs.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)
Far too often our churches are cloistered within four walls, living godly lives that are seen by no one. We become consumed by inward-focused ministries. With all of our energies directed at one another, cabin fever sets in, and the church fights and feuds over minor matters. As we distance ourselves from our communities, we come to fear and distrust the outside world. In the end, having no significant relationship with outsiders, we content ourselves with trying to convert our young people.
That’s not how we were called to live! Peter told his readers:
“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
Our lives are to be lived out in the open. Non-Christians should see our lives and respect them. This is true of us as individuals; it’s also true for the church as a whole.
We’ve got to be the church inside out… insiders going out in order to help outsiders come in.
Jesus has gifted his church with gifts and with leaders to equip her for works of service (Ephesians 4:7-13). One of the main tasks of Christian leaders is to help members find and use their gifts in service to others. Leaders should be aware of the needs of the community around as well as knowing how to help members discover their own giftedness. Elders and ministers need a mechanism for communicating those needs to the body, be it through social networks, phone trees, Bible classes, small groups, or announcements from the pulpit. They also need an awareness that no church can meet every need. It’s possible that some needs will only be prayed about for now, trusting that God will raise up people for those ministries at a future date.
Leaders should be open to proposals for new ways of serving, for new ministries that better fit the current membership and contemporary needs. In the same way, some ministries should be allowed to fall dormant or cease to exist; there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer bearing fruit.
Church members should be creatively looking for ways to use their gifts to serve the community around them. Where giftedness meets need, that is the Christian’s calling. Sometimes those gifts fit within existing structures in the church; sometimes new ministries will be developed to minister to the community in more appropriate ways.
It’s important that we encourage our members to experiment with new ministries. Leaders should be positive and affirming when faced with ministry proposals, especially “outside the walls” ministries. People need to know that they can try something, evaluate it honestly, and make necessary changes (including suspension of that ministry for a time). As churches step outside of themselves, they will find more unpredictability and a need for more flexibility.
But step out we must. The church needs to be seen by the community, seen as a force for good. We will never be able to speak like thunder, until our lives shine like lightning. Others will never praise God because of us until they see deeds that are truly praiseworthy. I’ll close with a quote from my book Church Inside Out:
As the old refrain says, they won’t care what we know until they know that we care. The world does not want to be preached at. Outsiders don’t want Christians standing inside church buildings pointing fingers out at the rest of the world. But when they see transformed lives reflected in a Christian body that serves its community, they’ll want to hear the message.
Tim Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006. He has spent three decades working in Spanish ministry, including 15 years in Argentina. Tim preaches for the bilingual ministry at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, where he attends with his wife Carolina, and their two children, Daniel and Andrea. Tim has authored and co-authored several books available HERE. He also writes regularly on his blog: The Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts.
Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. To promote the Summer Blog Tour, we’re giving away one set of Church Inside Out, both book and workbook. Just leave a comment below then enter over HERE