When I was an elementary student at Timothy Lutheran School in Chicago, I distinctly remember being given a small, pewter, nickel-sized pendant with Luther’s coat of arms on one side and the words “I am a Lutheran” on the other. It instilled great pride in my Lutheran heritage and faith. Similarly, growing up in suburban Evergreen Park, the standard question asked of all new neighborhood playmates was: “Are you Protestant or Catholic?” Both examples illustrate an “outside-in” approach, which is incapable of changing and strengthening our hearts or establishing the true, everlasting source of our identity.
Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), England’s best-known preacher for most of the latter half of the 19th century, wrote the following “outside-in” caution in a book he prepared for ministry students: “Don’t preach the gospel in order to save your soul.” Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author of King’s Cross. interprets Spurgeon’s counsel as an admonition not to feel disproportionately good if your ministry is doing well nor disproportionately devastated if it is going poorly. Either viewpoint is indicative that our identity may subtly be shifting from being in Christ to doing ministry. Both are “outside-in” approaches that don’t change and strengthen the heart.
Our journey toward healing and revisioned ministry must flow from the “inside-out”, as through the power of the Holy Spirit our hearts are changed and strengthened, uniting us in fellowship with Christ.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”- John 15:5
James Proctor echoes Jesus’ words in his hymn “It is Finished”:
“Cast your deadly ‘doing’down-
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,