In the last few weeks and months, several recurring themes have surfaced in my discussions with people, popped up in my book readings and seeped in during random musings. Each of these recurring “themes” are individually important and have numerous applications, but taken together they apply directly to The Outpost. One theme was spiritual gifts. Another was evangelism. The final one was Membership.
“When Nehemiah built the wall, some carried stone, some brought water, some mixed mortar, and some laid the stones in place. All were controlled, however, by the overriding purpose – all were building the wall. The supreme aim guided the entire enterprise. Stones and mortar arrived at the wall in the right proportions at the right time to guarantee maximum wall-building” (42,43 McGavran). This to me prompts an underlying question that ties all 3 themes together: what is our “supreme aim” at The Outpost? What are we building? Are we just a Christian club? -- we get together once a week, hold our meeting, we hear a speaker. We smile, we wish each other well, we go home to live ‘till the next meeting. If we looked at these meetings over a long period of time, what would we see? If the Sundays of numerous years were plugged into a graph or chart, would we see a bunch of disconnected dots, or an upward spike progressing towards a clear goal?
Donald A. McGavran, heralded as “the dean of church growth studies and prophet of church growth importance and practices,” defines that clear goal or “Supreme Aim” of every church this way: “In mission today many tasks must be carried on together; yet the multiplicity of good activities must contribute to, and not crowd out, maximum reconciliation of men (people) to God in the Church of Jesus Christ. God desired that men be saved in this sense: that through faith they live in Christ and through obedience they are baptized in His name and live as responsible members of His Body (The Church universal, Church with a capital “C”) ”(McGavran, D.A. Understanding Church Growth). That is our supreme aim at The Outpost – our purpose is to do our part to make that happen to as many people as possible in Weaverville and Trinity County, the areas entrusted to us by God as His adopted sons and daughters in Christ. How? There are many ways, but let’s look at how the 3 themes I mentioned play a role in that supreme aim:
1) Spiritual Gifts ~ As quoted above, “some carried stone, some brought water… but all were building the wall.” Every Christian has been given special gifts by God. Each of you has one or more, and each one, though different, is of vital importance because each gift is given to “build the wall” ~ to aid in the work of reconciling men to God. Your gift is important and needed if our “Supreme Aim” is to be accomplished with maximum efficiency!
2) Evangelism ~ We’ve already said it – there are many legitimately ‘good’ things a church can get involved in and do in a community – but there is one ‘best’ thing: ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ “The greatest enemy of the best is the good,” and Dr. McGavran addresses this most slippery trap, warning that “some are so deeply impressed by the physical needs of man – and who can deny their urgency? – that meeting these needs becomes for them the highest present purpose of God and the Church” (43 Understanding Church Growth). We will always be concerned about the “felt needs” of people, but when push comes to shove, the “truest mercy” and greatest priority is communicating the good news of salvation unflinchingly. Unless we’re doing this, we’re a club, not a church.
3) Membership ~ “Is ‘Church Membership’ found in the Bible?” No – at least not as we understand it today in our Western Culture. So why do so many churches make it a big deal? Mainly because there is an underlying Biblical value behind “church membership” that Donald McGavern refers to as ‘living as responsible members of Christ’s Body.’ As you look at this sentence, the word to emphasize is “responsible,” not “members.” All throughout his letters to various churches, Paul emphasized unity and commitment to a body of believers. Why? Because the most responsible stewardship of the gifts God has given you, and your personal role in helping to accomplishing the “Supreme Aim” of the Church are both rooted in consistent fellowship with other Christians. These are trusted friends who aid in accountability while you mature in the faith, “as iron sharpens iron.” They know what’s going on in your life, making them able to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”In the Biblical sense, you are automatically a “Member” of the Body of Christ simply by virtue of being saved. Biblically, the emphasis is a committed involvement with a group of Believers. In the Western cultural sense, ‘Membership’ (or ‘Partnership’ at NCR) is more of a tool to help reinforce responsible stewardship to that body of Believers. For some, it’s very helpful to sign a piece of paper in order to commit for a time to this or that church body; it’s a tangible “stake in the ground.” But I understand why others prefer to show their commitment by simply getting involved at their church of choice. I admit that many times at the Outpost I’ve been overly concerned about a signature of commitment when a person’s actions are already communicating the intentions of their heart – and I’m sorry. Here’s the point… we want you to get involved, one way or another, because you play a unique role nobody else can fill in accomplishing the “Supreme Aim” of The Outpost.