External Focus, Careful Balance

By Mark A. Taylor

Decades ago I had the delight of getting to know W.F. Lown during his years as president of Manhattan (Kansas) Christian College. Brother Lown was talking about handling criticism. “As long as I’m receiving attacks from both the left and the right,” he said, “I figure my positions are just about exactly where they need to be.”

It’s dangerous to quote out of context, and I must admit I don’t remember anything else from this conversation. But, maybe because I hated to receive criticism (I haven’t learned to love it yet!), his comment has never left me.

Perhaps it was brother Lown’s observation that started me thinking about one of the great tests of life, that of achieving balance. I’ve written about it in this space before, but the challenge pops up again and again, in one situation after another. Nowhere is it more important to seek balance than when we decide to become externally focused.

Test and challenge are good words to describe the energy and thought required here. Balance doesn’t come easily. It’s so much easier to let our teeter-totter rest at either extreme: only saving souls on the one hand or only serving society on the other. Arguments for each side may sound good.

Some at one end say social action—giving medicine or providing meals or building homes or refurbishing neighborhoods—doesn’t speak to ultimate needs. “This world is not my home,” they remind us. “We must prepare our neighbors for what awaits all of us just beyond death.”

Others point to pain and loss raging not far from our own front doors and ask how Christians can ignore it. “Sufferers won’t grasp ‘God so loved the world,’” they say, “until they’ve experienced that love from someone who loves God.”

But how will they understand and submit to him if Christians never talk to them about Jesus? The solution is balance. Wise and rare is the leader who helps us attain it.

Last year at an Energizing Smaller Churches Network conference, Ben Merold answered a question about this issue. Ben believes the church doesn’t win many of those served by social initiatives, but it does win many who want to be a part of a church that offers this kind of service.

That’s one strategy. Another is Eric Swanson’s approach, quoted by Rick Rusaw this week: “Good deeds often pave the road over which good news travels.” Good deeds plus good news—simple to understand, tricky to accomplish, satisfying to achieve.

That’s always the way it is with balance.

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