Book review: The Externally Focused Quest
The challenge of turning an inwardly focused church into a vibrant, externally focused mission to its community is formidable. It is no accident then that the same writers who gave us The Externally Focused Church,Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw, felt led to follow it up with The Externally Focused Quest.
It is a quest, and a never-ending one, for institutionalization and insulation from the outside world are as natural to organizations, including but not exclusively, churches, as swimming to fish and barking to dogs.
The wonderful old “Parable of the Lifesaving Station” is as relevant as ever. The stagnant lifesaving station (i.e., church) is replaced by a missional station which becomes a stagnant station which is replaced by a missional station, ad infinitum.
So we probably can’t have too many books on the subject. The chief contribution of The Externally Focused Questis probably the plethora of up-to-date stories of real churches which have put the principles and passion of the previous volume into action in the real world. Anyone looking for inspiring stories to share with churches, is going to find plenty of them right here.
Without trying to re-tell the stories, what I will do here is to highlight 10 of this book’s best thoughts. They pretty much speak for themselves.
1. “If your church were to close its doors, would anyone in the community notice—would anyone in the community care?” This question was reprised from the earlier book, but was worth repeating. The normative answer, I fear, would be “no.” The abnormally wonderful answer, worth striving for, would be “yes, it would care very much.”
2. Forget about becoming the best church in the community. “Our goal should be to become the best church for the community.”
3. “The only thing more difficult than getting the church to go into the community is getting the community into the church.” This may not have been true in the past, but it is now. So let’s challenge our people to go where lost people actually are.
4. Quoting Alan Roxburgh, “The role of the pastor is shifting from one who tends to the hurts and needs of the congregation to one who teaches and trains the congregation to tend to the hurts and needs of the community.” I don’t believe this is true, yet, but I pray that it becomes true, as quickly as possible.
5. Quoting pastor Eli Morris, “There are people who give money and things, there are people who engage in projects, and there are people who engage with people. Life change happens when people engage with people, so we want to move people from the outer circle (those who give money and things) to the inner circle (those who engage in ministering to people).”
6. “Spiritual formation has a simple and practical measurement: ‘Who do you have room in your heart for this year that you didn’t have room in your heart for last year?’ ”
7. In their wonderful section on getting small groups involved in serving lost people, the authors make some great observations about what makes for a truly satisfying experience of community (which is an obsession for some churches). Quoting Pastor Matt Carter, “…when we aimed simply for community, we got neither community nor mission. When we aimed for mission, we got mission and community almost every single time.”
8. “Good deeds create goodwill, and goodwill is a wonderful platform for good conversations about the good news.”
9. Three things we need to pray as we go forth into the community to serve: Open the door. Open my mouth. Open their hearts.
10. “In an externally focused church, every person is on mission.”
Brian Thorstad / Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.