Organizing Principle for Outreach

Learning about word definitions can be fun, but I especially like learning the definitions of phrases. Often you can communicate a more complex idea by combining words. Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about the concept of the, “organizing principle.”

An organizing principle is any concept or idea that helps guide decisions that you make. We all have lots of organizing principles, and they guide how we choose our favorite things, how we pick a job or career, or how we make friends. Even having an alphabetical filing system is making use of an organizing principle. Here are some other examples:

Every March, to the frustration of red-blooded males everywhere, the same thing happens. Millions of longtime sports fans, basketball lovers, and rabid favorite-team followers fill out their brackets based on careful observation, weighing the various factors of individual match-ups, and deep understanding of all the forces involved in college basketball. It is March Madness, baby!

Meanwhile, also every March, millions of mild-mannered, sweet-as-pie, reasonable and practical women who never watch sports on TV (why would you, when there are more productive things to be doing?) fill out their brackets. And of course, they almost ALWAYS beat the guys.

This drives men insane… but why? Is it because they dislike women, or are incapable of losing, or think that the college games were rigged by some nefarious female?

Of course not. It’s because men feel that they lost DESPITE having a superior organizing principle. Men make decisions about who will win games based on knowledge of the teams and knowledge of the game. Women make those same decisions based on whether they have good memories of being in that area (hm… I enjoyed Washington DC more than North Carolina, so I think Georgetown will win!), or which team has cooler uniforms, or which mascot is more imposing. Not sure you believe me? Here is the beginning and conclusion of this very thing straight from the heights of Christendom.

Here is another example. When you were a kid, this is how you decided what to wear: What do I want to wear today?

When you were in early high school, this is how you decided what to wear: What outfit will annoy my mom the most today?

When you were in late high school, this is how you decided what to wear: What will my friends think is cool, especially the cute girl who sits next to me in Western Civ?

When you were in college, this is how you decided what to wear: What takes the fewest seconds to put on? I’m late for class!

In all these cases, you were exercising different organizing principles to make your decisions. If you look a few posts ago, you can see how I am trying to do this same thing regarding which church to attend at different phases in my life. My organizing principle was this: What do I believe is God’s purpose for my church involvement at this time in my life? How can I best glorify him with this decision?

You might say that an organizing principle is a rule that helps you make a decisions.

Alright, that’s all well and good, but how do you make those same kinds of decisions corporately? In other words, how can this concept be applied in the local church?

A few friends have rightly called me out of late, because I have been lax in fulfilling my promise to share my thoughts regarding church outreach. So, here it is; my thoughts on creating an organizing principle for local church outreach.

1) Church outreach must submit to all Scriptural commands. Now, note that this does not mean that the principle must DO all things. Like individuals, individual churches cannot simultaneously conduct ministries in every possible realm of ministry. So, like individuals, they must make decisions about what they WILL do. However, they must fulfill Scriptural commands by not sinning, not compromising the gospel, and not creating unnecessary discord and disunity in the church. They must seek to proclaim the good news, and they should implement godly qualities and desires such as love for the brethren, compassion for the lost and for the poor, and productive use of the blessings God has given (people, money, time, talents, strengths, etc.)

2) Church outreach must be supported by continual prayer for guidance. It is far too easy to mobilize people through persuasive words and ideas that SEEM to line up with godly principles, but will be useless without God’s blessing. Like individual evangelism, it is not the program (or the individual) that brings about change in men’s hearts, but God. Prayer is needed to discern his will, to be affirmed of the rightness of his calling, and to be open to new concepts that he may bring forward.

3) Church outreach should begin with careful and thoughtful assessment. Mark Driscoll has said that it is useless to train someone to be a church planter if God has not given them the right talents and commitment and qualities, so his church-planting organization puts heavy emphasis on assessment. Our approach to outreach programs should do the same. We should carefully assess our churches resources (financial, talents, makeup, time constraints, location, strengths and weaknesses, etc.) BEFORE we lay out a plan for outreach.

Really, this is more intuitive than it sounds. Would you enter a NASCAR race driving a VW Bug? Would you try to enter the NBA draft if you were 5-5 and weighed 100 pounds?

However, sometimes churches have a habit of thinking that they have one particular mission when in fact it does not match an honest assessment of their situation at all. At my last church, we sometimes held on to the tired notion that we were going to reach the MSU campus for Christ, when in fact we did not have the right time, talent, money, or people to make that happen. However, we DID have an excellent ministry to many university employees and their families, as well as a few college students who appreciated family atmosphere more than big exciting programs. When we recognized that fact, we were better able to serve the ministry God had given us, rather than talk about a ministry that we just could not do. Instead of trying to put on big dinners for college students, we started focusing on small groups in family homes. We soon saw the benefit of this more realistic approach.

4) Church outreach should have a specific plan for short-term success and a constructive plan to achieve long-term goals. Once assessment has been done, a church should try to build a plan that is honest about what it can do in the short term. A 30 member family church in Ann Arbor, Michigan probably will not be able to baptize 1000 inner city kids in the next 4 months.

However, they may be able to set up a solid mentoring program for a few international students attending the University of Michigan. At the same time, they can be taking steps toward a larger goal- for instance, they could seek to have 70 members within 5 years, or something like that.

Whatever the individual case, a church should be realistic about using the resources it has for its short-term goals, and also thoughtful about what it can accomplish with long-term goals.

Sometimes churches feel bad about this, as though they are failing their responsibility by not doing EVERY kind of ministry. One member might call a mentoring program into question because, “we should be out saving souls,” or another might be angered by the lack of a ministry to the poor even though the church does not have the financial resources to do such a venture.

However, it is important to recognize, that we are all individual parts of the Body. This is not just individual, as if EVERY church should have EVERY part of the body. It is also corporate; each church has a limited individual role within the larger kingdom of God.

5) Finally, a church outreach program should be open and flexible regarding new possibilities and the providence of God. Realistically, a small church may not feel prepared to take on a major outreach ministry to the local university. However, what if God providentially brought in 10 new members to the church, all of whom were especially well suited to college outreach? A church needs to be open to the new things that God may do in the hearts and minds and lives of its individual members. This does not necessarily mean creating a new ministry every time someone has an idea, but it does mean being prepared to make midstream changes should God so lead.

These five things may seem intuitive, or even obvious! They may well be, but it still helps me to write it out. That way, I can take a proposed idea (like a new ministry) and line it up against these rules to see whether it fits.

So then, though there may be some considerations that I’m missing, I would at least suggest that a church outreach program should do these things.

1. Always stay within Scriptural boundaries.
2. Continually pray for God’s guidance and blessing, for his will to be done and his glory to be shown.
3. Carefully assess what ministries the church is best prepared and equipped to do.
4. Strive for specific short-term goals and work to build toward certain long-term goals as well.
5. Be open to God’s guidance, whether it be through circumstances, clear calling, unexpected changes in people or resources, or new avenues to ministry.

In my next post –which should come much more quickly than this one did!- I’ll try to apply this formula to my local church in a rough way. By that, I mean that I do not know the situation intimately enough to say anything with certainty (I trust the elders and deacons to do that), but it will at least give an example of how this sort of organizing principle could be carried out.


amanda said...

yes I too filled out a bracket for march madness and chose my teams based on the places I liked or the sound of mascot. I think outreach changes depending on where you are at in life. Like for instance most of ubc people are older they may have difficulty outreaching to college students unless they are professors. These same people could outreach to people at work or nieghbors.
InterVarsity and all the Christian groups on campus are planning a big outreach in oct based on a social justice issue. Human trafficing, I think this an exiting vision. I hope the people who do commit thier lives to Christ, are able to be followed up by with people that would nuture and mentor thier growth. I was calling some IV alumni (really old ppl some from 50s) to help update thier contact lisr the other day and it is interesting how much people are spread out across the country and how much thier lives have changed since then. Some people were great and very interesting to talk to while I felt bad for few people they seemed kind of bitter.


amanda said...

I took the teaching test this weekend and they had a passage from a puritan author John Winthrop about the City on a Hill.