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The Externally Focused Church Paperback – June 9, 2004
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If any reader is not thinking about projects outside the four walls of the church, this book will definitely spur you toward those good deeds. The many ideas will inspire creative projects that any church can initiate, as God leads them.
I would encourage readers to keep in mind that this book aims to inspire an external focus. At times, it seems it promotes external focus on civic-minded projects over and against the worship of the church. I think it is good to keep in mind that worship and mission are both necessary and neither should be promoted over the other. Jesus must remain the center and focus of the church--whether during Sunday services, prayer groups and Bible study or during civic or pastoral projects.
The book examines the early church's innovative care for others such as the sick and poor that was an anomaly in the first centuries. The authors highlight how that caught the world's attention and drew people to the church and to Christ; the same can occur today when the church looks outside itself. The authors did not mention how this accompanied the empowerment of the church by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yes, the early church was engaged in their cities; however, Jesus commanded them to wait until they received power from on High, as they did on Pentecost. The authors fail to make that same exhortation to churches. Christians today need that same Holy Spirit empowerment and equipping to engage in the Mission of God; otherwise, the church becomes another civic group like Rotary or Kiwanis or the local Secular Humanist Club. (I'm not knocking civic groups--I'm a big fan) They may do good works; but we want to do the works of God that produce everlasting fruit and glory to him specifically.
Finally, the authors write that they don't know of any churches that claim to be internally focused but that they exist all the same. I dislike how the authors arbitrarily have decided that there are externally focused churches that are good and internally focused churches that are bad. This mindset can lead churches to ignore the very real needs within the congregation. For example, churches need to care for their own flock possibly before going out into the world. I don't think internal focus and external focus are mutually exclusive--no more than worship and mission. Regardless of how we look as churches, we need to continually humbly reform.
Overall, I recommend this book for all Christians.
The Externally Focused Church is a book for leaders, and it got my leadership-juices going with a bigger vision for our church. It is easy to read and full of Scripture, inspiring stories of churches that are really doing it, and practical wisdom on how to lead in this direction. It is meant to be read together by leadership teams. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, application points, and even lesson/sermon suggestions.
I especially appreciated how clear the book was on the relationship between good news and good deeds. Both are essential. Neither are optional. Good deeds demonstrate and validate the good news (footnote: Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 12). But no one is saved without the good news (footnote: Romans 10:14-15).
I don't think that I would want to lead a church that was solely externally-focused. My current definition of church is Jesus' worshiping community of gospel-centered disciplemakers. That entails at least three necessary foci: God (upward focus), church members (inward focus), and the world (outward focus). External focus, however, is probably the easiest one to lose sight of, and if we don't give it lots of attention, resources, and effort, we can quickly fall into an ecclesiastical myopia. This book will help a church grow more externally focused, and I think that's great.
The authors have collaborated on a follow-up book that is aimed at laypeople: Living a Life on Loan which is also comes bundled together with other resources in a kit for a church-wide campaign [lifeonloan.com]. Interested leaders should also look into the growing network of churches who are trying to turn their focus outward [externallyfocusednetwork.com/].
We are just on the beginning of making this our focus as a church, but after purchasing this book for myself I bought several more for our leaders to read. It is an easy read and one that you will come back to again and again as a real resource for becoming "externally focused."
Even if you are not a church leader, this book would be a good read for how you might become a follower of Christ that lives what you believe.