Sheep and Goats


Found this and well, just couldn’t say it better myself.

“Inward or outward?
By Allen Ewing-Merrill

If you want to see me get all worked up, talk to me about how we in the church need to take care of ourselves before we can begin to look outward.

This happened recently at a monthly interfaith meeting that I facilitate. We were brainstorming about joint community outreach projects when one of my colleagues spoke up. I’m sure he had no idea he was about to push one of my buttons.

“You know, we have to take care of ourselves before we can begin to look to the needs of others,” he said. “We’re a very busy church with a lot going on. We’ve got to take care of our own needs first.”

Oh man. I wanted to jump across the table. My first thought: Does this guy read the same Gospels I read? Are we following the same Jesus?

I spoke up with more passion than substance, letting him know that I totally disagreed. I think it surprised him.

But isn’t this why so many of our churches are struggling—or on the edge of closing their doors—because we’ve lost our bearings, because we’ve become little more than social clubs focused on institutional maintenance?

Does anybody really believe that when we’ve taken care of all of our own needs, when the institution is finally running like a well-oiled machine, when we’ve focused inwardly long enough, that somehow we’ll then have the resources to begin caring for needs outside our church? Does anybody really believe this?

Before we moved to Portland, I served a church that had bounced back dramatically from a place of dismal decline. The church, once strong, had declined over the decades, not unlike other mainline Protestant churches across the U.S. Worship attendance was such that in the winter, they’d move out of the sanctuary into a small adjacent meeting room because they couldn’t afford to heat the big, beautiful sanctuary and they were also small enough that they could. Their focus was inward. Morale was low. They wondered how long they’d survive.

But then over the course of a decade or so, this congregation experienced dramatic change. Worship attendance began to grow from a low of about 40 to close to 300. The church came alive with children, youth and adults of all ages. A growing spiritual vitality produced diverse programs of mission and ministry that enlivened the church and impacted the community. This church had experienced revitalization—new life!

I remember hearing a pastor from another church trying to understand what had led to such dramatic change. One of the church’s leaders described it this way: “We used to be a church that looked inward. We were most concerned that the bills were paid, and when money was tight, we worked harder to balance the budget. All of our efforts went into trying to keep this church afloat.” (How many churches could describe themselves this way?)

“But then one day, a newcomer stood up during the sharing of joys and concerns, and through tears, she shared her struggle. She had a parent back in Brazil who was dying, and she was desperate to make it home to see this parent before it was too late. It was hard for her to ask, but she wondered if there was anyone who might be able to help her financially.”

Presented with a challenge, the church’s members began to understand that they could help a sister in need. The tearful concern of an immigrant in their midst grabbed their hearts and took precedent over a balanced church budget. They began to work together to meet the need of the newcomer and it became their rallying cry. When they were able to raise enough funds to send this person to Brazil, they realized God could use them for powerful things.

“Our focus changed, from inward to outward,” said the church leader, “and that made all the difference. Once we began looking outward, we never stopped.”

There were many factors that led to this church’s revitalization, but the point was clear: When the focus is outward, some of the inward things begin to take care of themselves.

The Rev. Ewing-Merrill and his wife, Sara, co-pastor Chestnut UMC and New Light community in Portland, Maine. This was excerpted from his blog at forwardonthejourney.blogspot.com.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” ~ Matthew 25:31-46

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