Caught Off Guard

"/doh" by striatic is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Have you ever had someone ask you a question that you should have had an answer to, but at that moment you drew a blank and just did the best you could?  Of course, afterward the answer seems so obvious and you wonder why you didn't say that to begin with.  That is what happened to me this past Sunday.

What's worse...this question was about outreach.

We had a new family visit the church and afterward began asking many questions about the church.  I, and a couple of others, introduced them to life groups and told them our philosophy concerning our life groups (that they are inter-generational on purpose).  They seemed genuinely interested in finding out about all aspects of our church.

Toward the end of our conversation together, they asked the fateful question:  "What does your church do for outreach?"

I thought and shared our current situation with the uncertainty of "3rd Street Ministry".  But mostly just fumbled around like I wasn't too sure of what I was talking about.  I mean, without 3rd Street Ministry, what other outreach do we have?  Over the years, our sign has probably brought in the most people to our church, with the catchy and sometimes thought provoking statements.  We try to have a number of events for our Day Care families throughout the year to rub shoulders with them and use those as opportunities to invite them into our fellowship.  In the past, we have done plays, brought in musicians and had concerts for the community for the purpose of outreach, but what do we really have now?  

I stumbled through my answer, while these thoughts were going through my head.  Even after the conversation, the inadequacy of my response lingered in my head.  

It would be a couple of hours later, but the answer to that question finally became clear.

The problem with my response was that I had only framed the answer around the idea of the "programs" of the church.  This was because that was how the question was asked.  However, outreach isn't a program, it is a command for each and every believer of Christ, whether or not there is a "formal" program for it in the church (Mat. 28:18-20).  But my mind got caught up in the phrasing of the question, which then led me down a path of wondering if our church does enough as it pertains to outreach through our programming.  

This is the pitfall of many in the church who have become accustomed to having the church programs being the only mechanism for which personal commitment and obedience to Christ's commands of outreach & discipleship come from.  Take away the church programs, you take away any mode of outreach or discipleship many Christians have.  

Don't read this the wrong way, outreach and discipleship programs in the church are good.  However, when they become the only means for obedience in the commands for outreach and discipleship, then we have subtly shifted our personal responsibility of these disciplines of the faith to the institution of the local church.  We shouldn't need a special event or program in the church to tell someone about Jesus or invite them to a place where they can hear about Him.  

And that is what I should have told this family, asking this important question.  If I had to do it all over again, when they asked about our outreach programs at the church it would sound a little more like this:

We don't look at outreach as a program, but rather as a discipline of faith that every believer is commanded to do.  Our outreach comes from our people concerned with the eternal destiny of those who do not yet know Jesus.  This manifests itself in many different ways.

  • It is the co-worker who invites his unsaved friend to a personal Bible study during their shared lunch breaks.
  • It is the student who invites his classmate to youth group because they know we are going through the Word of God and are dispelling many misconceptions the world has about Him. 
  • It is the family reaching out to their neighbors during a trying time in their lives, offering prayer and meals, and sharing Jesus as their ultimate hope.
  • It's the man who is excited for preaching his first sermon and invites all of his co-workers, friends and family to hear him share about the good news of Jesus at church. 
  • In programs that the church creates & supports, but every program, at its heart is begun by individual believers bound by a shared mission with a passion for reaching the lost in their own personal lives.
In many cases, this outreach will never happen within the four walls of this church, nor will attendance to these same four walls be the measuring rod for success.  

Rather, Jesus has called us to share our faith with others.  We, as the church, equip people to do just that.  We teach them what the gospel is, we train them how to share the gospel (personally, as well as, through small groups and other ways) and, on occasion, provide opportunities within our four walls for outreach and further discipleship.

This is what outreach looks like at our church:  Every person equipped to share the good news of Jesus to those around them, with or without a program.    

Maybe next time, I'll remember to say just that.  I hope you will too.   


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