I think it’s the wrong question.
It’s very common to hear that the reason why churches are declining is because they have become inwardly focused (on themselves) rather than outwardly focused (on the community).
While this discussion has come about because of a very real problem, I don’t believe that the proposed inward vs. outward distinction is fully helpful. Nor is it biblical.
That’s right, I’m saying that being ‘outwardly focused’ is not biblical. Neither is being ‘inwardly focused.’
What’s true is that self centeredness is always a problem. If Christians are primarily concerned about their own needs and preferences over those of others, immaturity is the primary problem. In that case we need to relearn what it means to ‘lose your life to find it’ and ‘take up your cross.’
On that level, the real question is whether churches are self centered or Christ centered.
Being Christ centered, means that we are focused on what’s important to Jesus.
According to Paul in Ephesians 4, The ascended Lord Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and all are needed for the church to be mature.
Let’s be honest: Some of the core ministry that Jesus gives is about care of the Body of Christ – the Church. Caring for one another deeply is not self centeredness. Far from it.
Consider all of the ‘one another’s’ of the New Testament. Look at the internal care that the church provided for one another in the opening chapters of the book of Acts. They were taking care of each other inside the fledgling family of faith.
Specifically, teaching and shepherding have a substantial (though not exclusively) ‘internal’ focus. Teaching God’s Word and building deep community.
Should we stop shepherding and teaching because these are ‘internally focused’? Of course not. That would be a denial of the gifts that Jesus gave us.
In my estimation, we don’t need to stop caring deeply for those inside the church. If we do that, what are we even inviting people to when we share the gospel?
The problem is that we still aren’t deeply Christ centered.
To be that, we need to rediscover the evangelist capacity in the local church that turns our attention outward.
Many of our churches have indeed lost that outward capacity that seeks to take the good news outside the walls of the church building.
This is a big problem that needs to be addressed, like, yesterday.
As networks and denominations, we need apostolic voices to help us continually remember unreached people and groups.
We have indeed often lost the outward dynamic that Jesus demands of us.
Jesus’ church is a missionary church.
This is the reality that the ‘outward focused’ folks are calling us to.
But – hear this – it’s not that we need to stop caring about the ‘inward’ dimensions of ministry.
We need to take seriously the total ministry that Jesus has called us to and gifted us for.
We need to be Jesus – centered.