Most churches today are largely internally focused. They have a high emphasis on programs and small groups that are designed primarily to meet the needs of those in the church. Evaluate your own church and ask yourself, which activities are intended for those in your church and which ones are truly designed for those outside? Take a look at your bulletin or your website. You may be surprised to find that there are a few for those outside of the church, but primarily the focus is for those on the inside. As time has progressed from Jesus and Paul’s day, we have become for the most part more of an exclusive club. I know there are exceptions, but local churches overall cater to the believer. This is the church that we have inherited, and our way of doing church has kept the Church from doing what Jesus did when He was here on earth.

When we first started Neighborhood Initiative (then called Mission Reseda), we targeted eight square blocks around our church facility to outwardly demonstrate the love of God to the surrounding community. At the time, we were partnering with the Los Angles Police Department, so when we would go door to door, we would let them know that we were from Valley Vineyard Church and that we were working in conjunction with the police department. But as we expressed what we were doing in their neighborhood, rarely did the residents know where our church facility was located. Though we were located on a prominent street, only blocks away, they had no recollection of our building. Today, many can identify our church building, but that is only because we have gone out into the local neighborhoods and engaged the local residents right where they live.

Becoming the incarnational church will require both pastors and members of their congregations to make different choices from those made in the past. If we are truly serious about intentionally loving our neighbors, then we will have to say no to certain internally focused activities in order that we can give the needed time and attention to our neighbors. However, it is very important that we maintain a balance here. It is not either-or, but both-and. It is easy to overreact when you see the importance of loving your neighbor and throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In those early days of Neighborhood Initiative, our pastor asked if I would teach on a Sunday morning on the subject of loving our neighbors. My message was entitled, “Overcoming a Fortress Mentality.” I started my message by showing a video clip from the movie Sister Act, which in a humorous way shows the transition of a church from being internally focused to being externally engaged. In the clip there is pushback from Reverend Mother, the one in charge, who is resistant to letting the sisters go out into the neighborhood. She felt it was unsafe to go out into the streets. She had become comfortable in doing church as usual. Even after the wonderful things that were going on in the neighborhood by the sisters, she resisted what they were doing. Reverend Mother is a perfect example of one who is attached to an “old garment.” She could not accept the “new wine” that was being poured out into the community. After watching the clip, one could easily become critical of being internally focused. However, I pointed out in my message the tyranny of the “or” and the genius of the “and.”

In the best-selling book by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras titled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, the authors introduced the concept that most companies live in the “tyranny of the or”: either-or dichotomies that force the choice between profit and benefit to customers, between speed and quality, and so on. The authors point out that successful companies actually pursue two seemingly contrary goals simultaneously. For instance, Starbucks serves quality coffee that you can get in a drive-through. No one will question their success. I believe to be a “successful” church we should be inwardly focused and externally engaged. We should pursue these two seemingly contrary goals simultaneously.

From The Incarnational Church: Catching Jesus’ Radical Approach to Advancing His Kingdom

Listen to Bruce Zachary's experience with Neighborhood Initiative.

Listen to Dallas Willard's word to pastors and leaders about Neighborhood Initiative.

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