Outer Circle Churches (Part 7 of 6ish)

[As you can see, this is a multi-post theme and you might find it helpful to begin at the beginning.]

Those of you who have more brain cells than me might notice a discrepancy in the arithmetic above, yet I’ve got that covered in the “ish” part of the “6”. I always have more to say than I originally plan, and have therefore become quite appreciative of the “ish”

An Outer Circle Church targets the poor, and if the rich come, they teach them to serve the poor.

Someone said, “There is hope for the rich if they are willing to repent and live in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, to be converted to God and to each other… Jesus didn’t neglect the rich, he evangelized them to love and give to the poor.”

New churches often target wealthier communities thinking that when they have a critical mass of bodies and bucks they’ll form a committee or a program to reach out to the poor. But it’s a curious reality that wealthy people and large congregations give proportionately less to the poor than the churches more meager in numbers and income. Wealthy churches tend to spend a higher percentage of their income internally – on staff, buildings, advertising, programs and events. They’re busy maintaining the machine that covertly hijacked them like Hal in the movie, 2001. They have no time, money, or heart left for those with the greatest needs.

For years I’ve been haunted by something a brother said to me when one of the churches I planted bought its first facility – an old theater building. Trust me when I say that this building left much to be desired. It was no a steal at any price, but was a substantial upgrade from the previous rented facility in which we worshipped. “Don’t let this building change you,” he said sternly. “I’m concerned that you guys will get off the track you’re on as you put time, energy, and money into this place.” As I recall, I thanked him for the warning, but in my mind there was no way we were going to let a building – an unimpressive one at that – change our trajectory. But if I’m being honest, our execution wasn’t as good as our intentions. I’m not saying churches shouldn’t own property or build buildings, but I know from experience how easy it is to fall into the snare of keeping up with the rest of the church world where we make it all about how big we are, how impressive we can be, and what we can do better than the church down the street.

Subtly a greater portion of the church’s income that used to go to African orphans begins to be spent on a new projector, sound system, and carpet. The resources we once invested in the poorest neighborhood in town is now spent on advertising geared to the wealthiest residents. When in the old days we would welcome and love on an indigent visitor, now in the interest of providing a comfortable atmosphere for our prissier members we might make it clear that their presence is less than appreciated. After all, people work hard all week long to pay the mortgage on their nice suburban neighborhood houses located as far as possible from the bad side of town. We don’t want them to have to come to church and have to deal with people they’ve pay a high price to avoid. It might dissuade them from coming back or, worse yet, go to another church where they will be better insulated from such people.

Thoughts as vile as these may never be stated in actual conversation among church members but sadly I guarantee that these are things that many church leaders think about and which subtly influence their policy-making process and facilities management.

Isaiah was an adamant proponent of fasting self-indulgence and making the society’s poorest a national priority for Israel. Please note the promise that follows his prescription of prioritizing the poor.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58

An Outer Circle Church acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly; and they don’t care who knows it.

These churches and their members are not trying to impress anyone with their compassion for the unpersons in their communities. When they reach out to the underclass it’s not a politically correct ploy to win the respect of middle-class people and entice them into their church. They’re not showing off, they’re just showing up and doing what Jesus would do if he were here.

Plus, they’re not performing for their peers or denominational heads. When the leaders of an Outer Circle Church attend leadership conferences with colleagues who lead churches that meet in spacious buildings, with impressive programs, and large crowds of middle-to-upper class people, they’re not intimidated or envious. They’re secure in what the Spirit has told them to do. [Neither are they judgmental of those leaders who either haven’t heard the call of the Spirit to reach out to the outcasts or he hasn’t called them there –– yet!]

An Outer Circle Church has at least a critical mass of Outer Circle Christians who refuse to be a mass of critical people.

These Outer Circlers model a compassion for the poor to the rest of their church. They’re not arrogant about it, but ardent in such a way that others are drawn in. Not everyone will get on board and some might even flee to another church where they can be cozy and surrounded by people of their own socioeconomic class. Be that as it may, the mature Outer Circler will do what the Lord of the Church leads them to do and will graciously and patiently lead his/her friends by example.

In conclusion

I admit that what I’ve said here could be thought of as radical. But what is “radical” if not the way things ought to have been all along, but because we’ve drifted so far away from the way things ought to have been, what should be normal is now thought to be radical.

In order to keep this essay achievably simple and brief I’ve given precious little theological or biblical basis for my opinions about the way the Church ought to act. For more Scriptural foundation I recommend these few resources:

  • My own essay on “Outer Circle Christians
  • Making Poverty Personal, by Ash Barker
  • Red Letter Revolution, by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo
  • Sub-merge, by John Hayes

I’d love to hear from you… (Please copy one of these statements and paste it in the Reply box and /or write some thoughts of your own to be heard on this yourself.)

  • These posts on Outer Circle Churches are too far out for me and I don’t really agree with your basic premise
  • I like them, but honestly, I have no hope for me or my church to act in an Outer Circle way
  • I agree with you and my church is by your definition an “Outer Circle Church”
  • I love the concept and will take some steps toward being more of an Outer Circle Christian and pray for my church to become more of an Outer Circle Church

2 Replies to “Outer Circle Churches (Part 7 of 6ish)”

  1. I agree with you and my church is by your definition an “Outer Circle Church” AND our family is an “Outer Circle Family” which is more important than being in an Outer Circle Church. We have 9 children and most of them were adopted. The one thing that we prayed for after dedicating them to God and asking for their salvation was compassion for people!


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