4/21/2007

Outreach ideas at Third?

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.


These are the five tenets of the, “organizing principle for church outreach,” that I suggested in my last post. As promised, here are my thoughts on what this might look like in our church.

1. Always stay within Scriptural boundaries.
Our church is committed to this idea. Even when we debate each other, both sides have fidelity to God’s will as revealed in Scripture as their highest goal. Any discussions we have regarding outreach, then, will be continually checked for their faithfulness to the Bible.

2. Continually pray for God’s guidance and blessing, for his will to be done and his glory to be shown.
One struggle in any church is that a particular idea can take hold in people’s minds, and they assign it greater value than it necessarily deserves. For instance, a social worker might become very frustrated with a church for not having a developed domestic abuse response program. On the one hand, the social worker has a good point: domestic abuse is a serious and widespread problem and deserves attention and preparation. On the other hand, though, responding to domestic abuse is not necessarily the primary goal or role of the church. It is important that a church respond to various outreach ideas by prayerfully and biblically listening for God’s guidance, praying for wisdom, and praying for a clear direction. We are God’s sons: if we ask for bread, will he give us stones?

At our church, I think it would be good (and this may already be done, so I’m naming this as my thought, not a criticism) to be specific in praying for ways that we can do systematic corporate outreach. Sometimes it is a little too easy to lean on the idea of, “every member ministry,” and allow it to become, “every member a lone minister/ministry.” If we are in prayerful agreement about the primary outreach ministries of the church, we may be better able to organize ourselves in carrying out those ministries corporately.

3. Carefully assess what ministries the church is best prepared and equipped to do.
Assessment is hard, because there is a constant tension between what you WANT to do, and what you are best BUILT to do. To state it with a bit of absurdity, it does not really matter if the construction team wants to perform Swan Lake and the ballet team wants to build an office building. Organisms, be they individual or corporate, are best able to carry out the role they are best designed for.

At our church, sometimes I question how well positioned we are to do much neighborhood ministry in the short term. Most of our members are only here for a few years because they are in school, and then they leave. I think that if we are honest, we are not built to do much neighborhood ministry right now.

However, we ARE uniquely positioned to have a ministry of discipleship for future church leaders, and of outreach and discipleship for college students. We have a large seminarian population, and this population desperately needs the wisdom and criticism and correction of more experienced church leaders. Our church has several good things in place to work in this area, including sharing the evening pulpit, giving good feedback, and building mentoring relationships. We could probably make this even stronger, though.

We also have a growing number of college students. This population is extremely smart, and they are going through that exciting time of life when you ask all kinds of questions about who you were (your family, childhood, etc), who you are (your likes and dislikes and personality and character), and who you will be (what kind of man or woman, etc.). Our church is uniquely able to speak to them, because we have so many younger men and women who are strong and knowledgeable in their faith.

When we assess ourselves in this way, we start to get a picture of what we are best able to do. It is much like looking at my individual life and realizing that one piece of the way God expresses his purpose for me is through my gifts and talents. This is not to say that God cannot overcome weakness for his glory (for instance, did you know John Piper used to have serious stage fright problems?). However, those are special acts of God that are hard to prepare for. Responsibility demands that we do the best we can with what we have, like the servants given varying numbers of talents by their master.

4. Strive for specific short-term goals and work to build toward certain long-term goals as well.
If my assessment were correct (certainly open to debate), our short-term goals should reflect it. We might set a goal of getting a certain number of people involved in college outreach, or of starting a consistent and systematic program that will speak especially to college students. We might also look for further ways that we can be continually teaching and discipling each other in what it means to be a pastor. Our goal would be to develop wisdom and discernment for future church leaders to carry with them when they leave our church.

At the same time, we might have somewhat different long-term goals. We may not currently be well positioned to reach out the community, but that might change in the next 10 years. If several college students or young families form a core of local people living in the area and attending the church, they might eventually be well positioned to develop better outreach ministries to the local community. If our church sets this as a goal, we could support it by being intentional about helping people who intend to stay for the long haul in getting housing or jobs. We might also continue to encourage connections between those living near the church, to develop the sense of community there.

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.
Who knows what God can do! Even as we attempt to be wise in structuring strong outreach programs that express our church’s unique gifts and strengths, we should be open to new possibilities. Whether this includes new connections with overseas missionaries, or new uses of our space, or new members with strong gifting in an area not previously considered, we should always be flexible as we seek to spread the gospel as best we can using what we have.


Hopefully, organizing principles of this kind will help us be wise and discerning as we glorify God and seek faithfulness in our local church body.

2 comments:

Riley said...

Ben,
Both posts dealing with outreach are wonderful. You have really taken time to think these things out. You articulate your thoughts so well! I will make a few comments on the blog but I would love to sit down with you in the near future to visit about these things further. First, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “Like individual evangelism, it is not the program (or the individual) that brings about change in men’s hearts, but God.” We need to make prayer a priority as we think about evangelism. We do have the prayer meeting on Sunday evenings, but it is more for praying for people and opportunities to share the gospel. Not many people have been coming. I think those that have find the time a blessing. Dude, there might be some limit as to how long comments can be so I will keep this short. I did read and was very encouraged by this post. Like I said, let’s get together and visit about this more. Thank you for taking the time to think about this issue systematically and to write down some concrete, practical applications to your thoughts.

Benjamin said...

Riley,

I hope I didn't slight you with the ribbing over at DYL! I know you have a life and responsibilities, so I'm not actually worried about timing. Thanks for being willing to hear people out on their thoughts.

Outreach can be such a tough issue, because there's always a lot of discernment required to deal with the line between "God doing his will in ways we don't expect" and "man doing his responsibility with what he has." Thanks for being willing to take on the lead in this mission for Third... it was good to see how appreciative people were of you when we unanimously confirmed your appointment!

Getting together to chat sounds great.