(This post first appeared in my church's newsletter in Spring 2015.)
A few years ago, I was at a conference where the speaker summarized the practices of a church congregation in three simple words: Up, In, and Out. Everything a congregation does, wants to do, and believes about itself fall into these basic categories, he said. Most churches will specialize in one or two, but all three are important to be a healthy church.
Up refers to individuals’ relationship with God and includes things like devotionals, Bible study, and prayer groups.
In refers to individuals’ relationships to each other and includes fellowship activities and community growth.
Out refers to a congregation’s relationship to the community and world and includes service projects, evangelism, and other outreach.
Ever since, I’ve found this to be a helpful tool to evaluate a variety of things: Do our upcoming programs include enough “up” opportunities? Have my sermons recently been focused more heavily in one area than the others? Is my own faith life leaning away from service or prayer or relationships?
Up, In, and Out is a short and easy way to think about a lot of things related to being the church. As I sat down to write my newsletter article for the spring, it occurred to me they are also a good overlay for the coming seasons of the church year: Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
Lent, with its focus on spiritual discipline and “returning to God,” is a time of Up. In Easter, we read the stories of the early church and how they came together, learned how to be a new religious community, and grew; that’s In. Pentecost tells us the story of the Holy Spirit kicking open the doors and driving the church Out into the world to serve, greet, and love those who were not yet part of the church.
Just as Up, In, and Out are all needed for a healthy church, all three are needed for a healthy personal faith, too. With that in mind, you may want to consider using these coming seasons as a chance to focus on these three areas in your own life. During Lent, if you don’t already, pick up a discipline, find a good devotional, carve out time to pray, or read a book in the Bible. In Easter, you could seek out a Cross+Generational event, attend a Bible study, or pledge to come to worship more often than you normally would. In Pentecost, volunteer at Tosa Cares or Serenity Inns, bring an item weekly for one of our collections, or just spend time walking your neighborhood and getting to know your own neighbors.
Whatever you may choose to do, remember that Jesus has “gone ahead of you” so “you will see him” (Mark 16:7). Up, in, or out, God is present in every direction. As always, please share what you learn and experience with me or another sister or brother.
In God’s Amazing Grace,
“The whole universe is witness to only a part of what you’ve done.” -Downhere, “Let Me Rediscover You”