When we compare the 1st century lifestyle and mission of Jesus with the 21st century lifestyle and mission of church culture, one thing becomes clear: We have a penchant for the inside Jesus.
There are two aspects of Jesus’ life and mission: His inside ministry and his outside ministry. His inside ministry was focused on his life with the disciples, those close to him, and his work within the religious structures of his day—inside the synagogue and the Temple. His outside ministry was comprised of his connection with the everyday people, often those on the margins, those forbidden entry into the righteous circles, the heavy drinkers, the sexually immoral and the tax collectors. Most of this facet of Jesus’ life was also literally outside, in the marketplaces, on the hillsides, by pools, in porticos and at parties.
Reading through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life it’s evident that the outside ministry of Jesus takes precedent. When we collate the outside versus the inside Jesus, the outside wins in every Gospel. And for good reason. In Jesus’ own words his mission was not to come for the inside, but for the out, “I have come, not for the healthy, but for the sick.”
Even when Jesus was ministering to those on the inside, he often chose to do it in the context of the outside world. When he wanted to teach his disciples more about the mission, he took them fishing; when he wanted to unpack the presence of the kingdom, he went into villages where the sick lay waiting for a miracle; when he wanted to teach them about faith, he showed them a foreigner who had powerful faith; and when he wanted to teach them about the pull of money, he showed them someone who wasn’t willing to give it up.
When challenging others to follow him, Jesus’ message wasn’t to persuade them with the comforts of life on the inside, either, but with uncomfortable prophesies like, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20, TNIV). When Jesus called others to become disciples it was always in the context of the outside mission. Jesus never said, “Come follow so that we can stay in the synagogue together,” or, “Come follow me and we’ll barricade ourselves from the darkness of the world.” In fact, one gets the feeling that Jesus almost had an aversion to the synagogue the way he was in and out.
When Jesus said, “Come follow me,” it was a clarion call to move beyond the religious structures to penetrate the world with a message of hope-a message that was never meant to stay inside for long. The mission of God, simply put, was a mission from the outside in.
Why have we forgotten the passion of the Son of Man for life on the outside, beyond corrugated roofs and sky-piercing steeples? It’s easy to exchange the unknown and the uncomfortable for the amenities of life on the inside. In today’s church we like the inside Jesus. It’s comfortable to lean to a Savior that’s easy; a Messiah that feels at home in the warm shelter of the four-walled church. The Jesus of Sunday school classes, small groups and deep-dish potlucks. The only problem is that wasn’t where the Jesus of the Gospels stayed for very long. Instead, he was building a reputation, rubbing shoulders with the world of the sexually immoral, the impoverished, with the suffering.
To favor one side of Jesus’ ministry is to neglect the other. To embrace an inside Jesus too tightly is to let go of his outside mission. According to George Barna there are over 75 million unchurched people in America and the number is rising. The world is in desperate need of the outside Jesus. But, chances are they won’t hear or see the effects of the gospel from an inside-heavy church. We need to find the outside Jesus again.
We need to rediscover what it’s like to be the church on the outside, doing the things that Jesus did. We need to find out what we’re missing from the heart of God for a hurting world. Henry David Thoreau wrote in his classic book, Walden, that he wanted to go deep into the woods and live, to find out if there was something that he was missing from life. He says,
“At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. From the hearth to the field it is a great distance. It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocents in dovecots.”
Perhaps it’s time for the church to become undomesticated, to go deep into the world and identify with the sinner, the poor and the oppressed, once again, for the mission of Christ. And the only way this will happen is if the church steps outside itself and blazes a path for a brave new culture to follow, one that, like Jesus, may not have a place to lay one’s head.