The Holy Spirit empowers us to focus outwards
Mark Fairweather Tall believes that our churches should not be indulging in navel-gazing.
“Left to itself, the natural flow of the church is to turn inward, grow older and become outdated. Leadership must intentionally combat all three.” James Emery White
I first read this statement approaching two years ago in a very thought-provoking blog entitled ’25 Years of Leadership Lessons’. I was reminded of it last week when quoted in a talk at Norwich Central Baptist Church that was aimed at helping us to consider who we want to be as a church. Both times it has struck a chord with me because I recognise the truth it conveys: We have preferences about ‘the way we like things to be done in church’; we easily fall into regular patterns of ‘the way we do things here’. This leads to expectations about what should happen, and unintentionally we begin to become ‘inward looking’.
It was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1942 and 1944, who said, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” As a church leader I am challenged by such quotes and wonder to what extent we combat the ‘natural flow of the church to turn inward’.
Last Sunday (June 9), we celebrated Pentecost. Jesus had promised his followers that the Holy Spirit would come to them once he had ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit would guide them into truth. The Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen them. Luke tells us that after Jesus is taken up to heaven, the disciples return to Jerusalem: “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room they were staying… they joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Acts 1:13 & 14.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were altogether in one house. At this moment, their faith in Jesus was very much about themselves. However, the coming of the Holy Spirit changed everything: They go out, overwhelmed by the experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Now they are not simply meeting on their own, but they attract the crowds who are bewildered because they heard what they disciples were saying in their own language (Acts 2:6).
This then leads to Peter preaching to the crowd, and the response was incredible – about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:41). The disciples have gone from meeting together as a small group, to meeting with thousands. The Holy Spirit changes their focus completely as they have the courage to share the good news of Jesus.
This year, the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative has been encouraging us to look outward and pray for more people to come to know Jesus. It started in 2016 as an invitation from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Church of England to pray. It is now a global prayer movement inviting Christians all around the world to join in prayer for there to be new believers. Lasting for ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost, it is such an appropriate response.
The last words Luke records of Jesus are: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1: 8) Jesus is calling his followers to be his witnesses - not to turn inwards but to look outwards. They won’t do this in their own strength, but they will have the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will help them to look outwards.
As I reflect on Pentecost Sunday, I want to understand more about what it means to be a person who is not inwardly focussed; I want to understand more about what it means to be a leader in a church that is not inwardly focussed. Why? Because our primary call is to be people who share the good news of Jesus, the hope of the world. And for that, we need a Pentecost in our own lives as we are filled and sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Photo by Sam Sy on Unsplash
Rev Mark Fairweather Tall is a Minister at Norwich Central Baptist Church.
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