Community First! [part II] In Here or Out There?

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Matt 9:37-38)

“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4-5)

A mindset has been embedded in our thinking through a false church model, which now requires one of those “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” moments to right. As the second great manifestation of the kingdom arises and the birth pangs of the end times begin to unfold, it will take such a radical awakening to reverse the norm we have all grown into all our lives. Most times, a false model is worse than none at all because people come to believe in it and they stop looking for anything different. The false mindset I speak of is this: due to the lack of true Christian community available within the framework of our current event-driven temple model, we have been led to believe developing spiritual gifts, evangelizing, and being a disciple is all about what we are doing in ministry to the unsaved “out there” [outside the body of Christ].

While there is certainly nothing wrong with being out there, the question I believe we need to ask is, by embracing this, have we put the cart before the horse? When it came to the body, were Jesus and His disciples about out there or “in here” [inside the community of believers] first? What was to be the priority, and how does having the wrong one effect both those in here and out there?

Above are two passages used regularly by today’s pastors to urge their congregations to go out there and evangelize the world around them. Again, while there is nothing wrong with us evangelizing the unsaved, what do these verses really say about out there versus in here? In part one of this series, I discussed how Jesus made clear He came first, and in fact only, to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). I also discussed how Jesus sent His disciples out specifically to the same people (Matt. 10:5-6).

Let’s first examine the “fields are white for harvest” passage within the context of Matthew 9-10 where it is found. Jesus is preaching in “synagogues,” having compassion for the people, because they were “dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd.” Who would be found in synagogues? And being dispirited like sheep without a shepherd, could we say these Jews were lost—the lost sheep of the House of Israel? Immediately after this we find Him quoting the fields are white passage to His disciples, and immediately after that He summons them and sends them out with these words, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Out there, or in here? Jesus was speaking of, and only of, God’s children and not the Gentiles in this passage. The field white for harvest concerned the discipling of His people and not evangelizing the world.

In the second verse above, notice Jesus begins by talking again about “lost sheep.” De ja vu all over again? Then he refers to, in both the example of the lost sheep and later the lost coin, the man and the woman “having” one hundred and “losing one.” These passages do not say they had 99 and wanted to go find another not currently of their flock. They both say, “they had 100 and one got lost.” Once again, nothing to do with out there and everything to do with in here, totally consistent with what Jesus said His ministry, and ours as disciples, was to focus on as priority #1.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll briefly focus on several other misconceptions that have arisen from the lack of true Christian community found in our present-day church model that teaches we develop into disciples out there, for the simple reason there is so little to be found in here:

  • We teach the gifts of the Spirit are discovered, developed, and deployed in the fields of ministry, while Paul is completely consistent in Corinthians and Ephesians that is to happen exclusively in, and for the benefit of, the body. Again, nothing to do with out there and everything to do with in here. The lack of a place to develop their gifts is the reason so many churchgoers do not have a clue what theirs are. And speaking of Paul, he shared Jesus’ concern for our priorities when, in Galatians 6, he said, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” In here.
  • Jesus’ standard for true believers, the Great Commission, was “disciples who observe all He commands,” and the way the world is to know we are disciples is not by the love we have for them out there, but by “the love they see us have for one another” in here. The way to discipleship is through the body before ministry.
  • When the Spirit came at Pentecost and created His community of Acts 2, it was for the benefit of “devout Jews from every nation under heaven.” Not until Acts 9-10 was anyone commissioned to go to the Gentiles. The Spirit was, as Jesus, about making disciples of His people before evangelizing the Gentiles, and created His community before sending out a single Apostle to preach.
  • As to evangelism being about out there, back to Jesus saying we would be known by the world for the love we had for one another. What was the result of people seeing the Acts 2 church gathered in community showing love for one another? “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved!”
  • Lastly, who did Jesus’ high priestly prayer, just before being arrested and crucified, focus on? “I do not ask on behalf of the world [that world “God so loved He sent His Son into it?”], but of those whom You have given Me” (John 17). Why? In His last act [communion] with His community before His death, Jesus wanted His disciples to remember what their priorities should be. Our communities.

Why is it so important we get the horse back in front of the cart, through embracing a transformative mindset that embraces building the community of God’s people before reaching out to unbelievers? Don’t listen to what I say. Read the polls about what all our converts have to say about themselves. There are many polls that have been taken over the past 50 years by Barna, Pugh, and others all showing one tragic and consistent fact: according to their own words, fewer than 10% of the converts we reach out there and bring in to our present system make it through to the standard Jesus gave us for the Great Commission. Why such a stark imbalance? Well, without the culture of true community, how are converts to mature? When they are evangelized, what is the model of Christianity they see? I found my opportunities as a young Christian through para-church organizations, but even in them community as a focus was lacking.

Resurrecting true Christian community must be the first priority of kingdom-minded people in this time of the second great manifestation of the kingdom on earth. Everyone sensing the kingdom arising at this time is looking for revival, but I believe there is an entirely different revival coming than most expect. If there is to be revival, it will start where it did when the kingdom came the first time: in here before out there. It will focus again, as it did before, on “the lost children of God’s house” first.

Many are beginning to feel the conviction of the Spirit to return to His first priority of community among His people. They are sensing there is more than they’re finding in attending events in temples during structured, limited times, and I believe that yearning will only continue to grow. We will see more and more house churches springing up, along with more and more innovative ways for people to “be together and have all things in common” than our present system can possibly afford or imagine! You will find the vision God has given me for community in the pages of this website. What’s yours?

If there is one thing the polls have revealed clearly and consistently, asking the cart to lead the horse hasn’t made disciples of our numerous temple-converts in the past, and isn’t making those disciples who are Jesus’ standard in the present. What was that definition of insanity? It’s time for a different type of fellowship. Discovering, developing, and deploying spiritual gifts, becoming disciples, and providing an irresistible witness to the world is all about what’s going on “in here.” That field whitest for harvesting now is still the same as it was then, and that’s “the lost children within the house of God.” We need to reach and disciple them in here first through the power of community, before we send them “out there!” Community was Jesus’ first priority, the Spirit’s first priority, and Paul’s first priority as well. Time to get back to that, and get the horse of ministry to the community pulling the cart of ministry to the Gentiles down the road in proper order once again.