I always used to think about evangelization as shining a light outward into darkness, about carrying a message outward to new lands, about moving outward from the center and towards the periphery. But lately, I have begun to adopt more of an inward approach and mindset.
It’s easy to read the Gospel message about the essential nature of our faith as an evangelical one, as one fueled by the notion of spreading the Good News that Jesus brought out and into the broader world. In Matthew’s Gospel, our Savior’s final words to his disciples were an instruction, a commissioning of sorts: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We are to go forth… into outward places. This is vital to the salvation story, because through this work, we can be assured of an eternal divine accompaniment. So, go forth we must.
But I think there are also some other important messages in scripture worth considering. Jesus himself prioritized rest and rejuvenation. When faced with great crowds, he “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). He was concerned about the welfare of his disciples and told them: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) To use a more modern term, there was a distinct recognition of the importance of self-care in Jesus’ work and ministry.
Self-care requires us to ensure that we are prioritizing the well-being of our body, mind, and soul. Our outward work will only be enhanced by such an attention to our inward state. So too with our Church.
Think about the strength of buildings, of our own homes. We may have a beautifully designed and decorated home, but if the foundation is cracked, that home will be compromised, perhaps even devastatingly so. Using some sports analogies, baseball pundits often talk about the importance of the center of the field, meaning the catcher, pitcher, middle infielders, and center fielder, as most essential to a team’s success. In football, the quarterback and those who protect him in the center of the line are frequently cited as the keys to building a strong offense. Basketball teams rely on a strong center and hockey teams need an excellent goaltender to succeed. There’s something inevitably essential about the center position and that which lies closer to inward on the field of play.
Using similar logic, we need to take care of our Church itself… to consider what it means to adopt the principles of self-care amongst ourselves and to begin the process of evangelizing on an inward basis. As fitness experts say: it’s time to strengthen the core.
Many organizations and teams begin this process by simplifying, by remembering the basics and focusing more intently upon them, and by collectively agreeing upon goals and a vision for the future. Inevitably, many of us will have a different vision about what the future looks like and how to get there, but this should never stop us from trying. What we need most of all is a shared desire to work together, to understand our differences amicably and respectfully, and possibly to even agree-to-disagree on occasion. So much is riding on our success because none of us will ever be able to bring that light outward if our inward state is not healthy and strong.
I believe we need to begin evangelizing from the inside out.