Which way does the church face? Taken one way, this is mainly the provenance of those who practice geography, cartography, architecture, and the like. Does it face toward the main road? East, west, north, or south? With the sun rising to throw light through the stained glass window in the morning? These and other questions like it deal with which way the physical structure of the church building faces.
But to me, this question has resonated in a different way as of late. Which way the church faces is not about a direction on the compass. Rather, it is an expression of which way the church faces relationally: inwardly or outwardly. How is the church positioned in relation to the community? What does the community outside look like through the doors and windows of our church building? From the safe places where we gather and find comfort in the word of God? And on the other side, what do people see when they see it from the outside? How do they perceive us? More importantly, how does it represent the King we serve, Jesus?
I think it's easy to admire the outside world from the places that we know are safe. Here's a picture of the area outside my office window from inside.
I'm comforted and encouraged by the beauty of the stained glass hanging there, and the symbols lead me to remember the things that are most important. The Triune God who created, redeemed, and grows me. The amazing, sacrificial love of Jesus that saves me. The ship that reminds me that God has placed me in the holy ark of His church to be transported through the flood of this life to eternal life with Him. To me, these symbols are comforting.
But how do those things appear to those outside the church? Do they bring them comfort and hope? Do they point them to God? Or do people outside the church see a place where they won't be accepted or understood, where they won't understand what is going on, or where they will be judged for whatever choices they've made that don't meet the standards and approval of God and his people? Here's a picture from outside my office window, looking in.
I often think about the contrast between these two views of the church: from inside and from outside. It's the same thing, the same building, the same symbols, but it means two different things to two different groups of people. This leads me back to the initial question: which direction does the church face? Does it face inward and look mainly to its own interests? Or does it face outward to the world and look for ways to love the community, people broken by sin (just like us!), and draw them closer to the heart of the father?
We've talked quite a bit in the past year or so about the 1-2-3's here at Immanuel, what's going to be important to us as we move forward. 1 Mission: making disciples. 2 Places where it happens: Temple spaces and Table spaces. And we're called to engage in 3 Key Relationships: with God (UP), with people who know and love Jesus (IN), and with those who don't yet know how much He loves them (OUT). In His ministry, Jesus spent time with His Father (when He could sneak off for a few brief moments), but He spent a great deal of His time with people.
With regard to people, Jesus faced both inwardly toward His disciples, spending a great deal of His time and energy with them, and outwardly, loving and feeding and healing the crowds, proclaiming the Kingdom to them. Matthew 13 is a beautiful expression of this dynamic. Jesus tells the crowd the Parable of the Sower (OUT), then spends time unpacking it with His disciples (IN). He was facing both inwardly and outwardly.
My point is this: if we're going to be faithful followers of Jesus, we also must be both inward-facing AND outward-facing. To neglect one over the other is a terrible error, and the history of the church is littered with the wrecks of those who didn't hold them in faithful tension. My prayer is that we always find comfort in the Temple spaces God has given us, and encouragement and inspiration to keep following Him. But I also pray that the time we spend there helps us see those outside in a new light. As people for whom Jesus died. As dearly loved by Him, even though they may not know it yet. As eternal beings made in His image, being called closer to Him. Which direction does the church face, inward or outward? The answer is BOTH. And when we embrace and even enjoy that tension, we can find delight in the fact that...
Adventure is out there!