One growing conviction that I have is that people need to embrace their role in the spectrum of how people approach God. That is, some people have a real talent for spotting hurting people and establishing a connection with them. Others have a gift for explaining theology in ways ordinary people can understand. There are people who have the ability to feel and convey a sense of urgency regarding our need to reconcile with God; others have the patience for working with new Christians.
We all need to grow in these different areas, yet I feel that each of us will always have one or two areas in which we excel. We need to embrace that.
What does that mean?
- We seek to identify the ministry that God has gifted with us, looking to use it to help people draw closer to God.
- We observe the body we are a part of, affirming and enabling others as they exercise their ministries. We don’t call them to do ours, nor deride ourselves for not having their ministry. We embrace our ministry and help others do the same.
- We work in a concerted way with other Christians to make our ministries glorify God by helping the Kingdom grow in three directions: inward, outward, upward.
We have different areas of service, but those ministries are to mesh together in a coordinated way. It’s not about what I do, nor what you do. It’s about what the body does. And one of the main things the body does is help people get closer to God. We do that through bringing in outsiders, discipling new Christians, and enabling the ministries of all believers.
The most important skill needed for evangelism is the ability to listen. The most important skill needed for church leadership is the ability to listen. The most important skill needed for body life in the church is the ability to listen.
We focus way too much on what we’re going to say. We need to focus more on picking up on what others say.
The spate of celebrity suicides reminds us that there are hurting people that need someone to listen to them. So much violence, like the shootings at schools, could be avoided if people would listen to those who feel they have no voice. So many abuse victims could be protected if the people around them would listen.
How many problems in the church reflect a lack of listening? How many people fall through the cracks because we don’t hear what they need to say? How many young people are frustrated by their perception that the older generation doesn’t care about their situation? How many older people feel that their wisdom and experience is being cast aside in favor of the young?
People around us are dealing with much pain. They are dealing with much fear. They have guilt and regrets from the past. They have uncertainty about the future.
Listen. Truly listen to the people around you. Spend less time talking, more time listening. You may be surprised at the changes you’ll see.
Do we know what outreach is? I know we think we know, but as I hear church people talk, I get the feeling that we don’t really have a good handle on what it is to reach out.
First off, I’ll admit that outreach is a funny word. Back when I was in college, we had a group called Mission Outreach. A student from Germany complained that there wasn’t a good word in German to express “outreach”; the same is true for Spanish. And I think many of us have trouble with the concept behind the word even if we have a general idea what the word means.
Churches mistakenly think that outreach is:
- Trying to attract outsiders through improved buildings, special seeker services, and effective programs at the church’s site. This attractional model is very nice for us because it allows us to stay in a safe place while asking outsiders to step out of their comfort zone. Buildings, services, and programs are a nice complement to outreach, but they aren’t outreach.
- Recruiting existing Christians to attend our church. Whether they be people who just moved to town or disgruntled members from other congregations, we often get excited when such people place membership with us. These new members come in already knowing how to “do church”; they are typically proclaimed to be a great addition to our church family. They are a great addition; any business prefers new employees to have experience and training. But let’s keep in mind that this isn’t outreach. The Kingdom isn’t growing; what was added to our numbers was subtracted somewhere else.
- Performing service projects around town. This comes closer to being outreach. It definitely achieves the “out-” part of the word, which is an essential part of outreach. Like the things mentioned in my first point, service projects make a great complement to outreach and can be a vital first step in outreach. But if we don’t reach the point of telling people about Jesus, we haven’t really reached out. We’ve just handed out.
Outreach involves Christians helping those who don’t know Christ come to know Christ. It requires that we go out: out of our building, out of our comfort zones, outside of ourselves. And it involves a conscious, coordinated effort to achieve the goal of making disciples; that’s where the “-reach” part of the word comes in.
We go out to bring others in… not just in to us, but in to a relationship with God. If we aren’t doing those things (going out, reaching others), then we aren’t doing outreach.
One of our members, Rosario Gibbs, posted this on her Facebook page. I’m sharing it with her permission:
My church served single mothers through a ministry called LOFT. Every year on Christmas, our church would ask families to sponsor a single mother and her children with Christmas gifts. Two years ago, I was walking the aisles of Walmart, buying items off the gift list we got from one of the single moms and her three children, and as I was looking into the shelves, a Walmart employee stops me and asks, in Spanish, if I’d accept an employee discount card that she had. Me, not fully understanding what she meant, asked if she was offering me her discount card for free, and she said “yes, I am done with my shopping and I don’t need this card, so I asked God to show me the right person and I think it’s you, it’s a 25% discount card.” She said she needed to go with me to the cashier cause she needed to sign to get the discount for me. I said “ok, but I’m not done yet,” and she said she’d wait for me at the cashier. When I was done, I met her at the cashier and she made the discount available to my purchase. I gave her a hug and told her about my church’s ministry and who she was blessing with that act of kindness, she said she knew God would point her to the right person. And I left amazed at God’s mysterious ways and grace.
Last week on Wednesday, a 22 year old male tragically passed away, he was the son of a lady that’s been visiting our church for over a month now, with whom I hadn’t spent much time during church. She was obviously devastated and requested visits and prayers. By Thursday, she was dealing with the unfortunate and painful fact that she didn’t have the money to pay for her son’s funeral, she couldn’t even have access to see his dead son, everything was just too much to deal with. Our church stepped in and helped raise the funds for her. On Sunday, amidst her pain, she was at church and we had a special prayer for her. Yesterday, Monday, some members of my church attended the visitation. I was standing in the room, looking at the young life that was lost, and then looking at the face of that mother, so full of sadness and pain, and I obviously couldn’t contain my tears. After a few words, a prayer and a song from one of our ministers, I left feeling terribly sad, praying for her and her family. As I was driving towards my house, I had her face on my mind and I remembered! She was the lady at Walmart that gave me her employee discount card two years ago!! She was her!
I thought of turning back so that I could ask her if she was that lady, but I didn’t do it. Today, we offered a meal for her family and friends after the burial. At the end of the meal, and after her friends and family left, all the present women from church sat with her and her husband and prayed for them again, when we were done I asked her “are you the lady that gave me the discount card at Walmart? She smiled and nodded, and we hugged. I told her again how she blessed that single mom and her kids, and I said “God blesses,” and she said “I have no doubt about it!”
2 Corinthians 9:8 says “….God is able to make every blessing of yours overflow for you, so that in every situation you will always have all you need for any good work.”
Be sure, we serve an awesome God and His hand is all over our lives! And He definitely works in mysterious ways. Thank you God for your grace and love!
Studies done back in the 1980s showed that anywhere from 78-90% of those that came to church for the first time did so because of a friend or relative (The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, Arn and Arn). Other studies have shown that approximately 95% of those that become Christians have friends or family in the church.
What does that mean? Here are a few thoughts:
- We, as Christians, need to be developing relationships with non-Christians.
- The best chance that our relatives and friends have of hearing the gospel is to hear it from us.
- We need to focus less on programs and more on people, less on showmanship and more on relationships, less on head knowledge and more on knowing our neighbors.
The unique mission of the church is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. There are other groups that can do much of what we do in interacting with our communities: building houses, sharing food, providing clothing. These good works and others can be done by those who don’t know Jesus. But only Christians can effectively share the gospel.
And we are the best ones to do that with those in our immediate circle.