Community Outreach, Faith Conversations

Is Outreach Necessary?

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Yes, and here is why

This may sound like an absurd question. Many church people I meet with are disenchanted with the church, with America, and with the shifting society around us.  Those same individuals are encountering denominations that are dwindling in numbers and revenue.  There is a sense of desperation all around.  My response to this is you are right these are trying times for the church, but I have never been more energized.  It means the church is more important, more relevant, demands a bolder witness than ever before.

Outreach is not just needed; it is indispensable to the survival of our communities.  But not in the manner you may imagine.  I am not saying this will grow your church, but it will expand your capacity, your compassion, your heart, and you as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe outreach is more about using our God-given spiritual gifts than it is about church growth.  Churches may grow due to our outreach efforts, but that is a Holy Spirit thing, not a program thing, or an energy thing, or even a planned thing.

Our calling is to invite people to meet this Jesus Christ who has transformed our lives through His death and resurrection.  It is our opportunity to create an environment for people to take part in a foretaste of the feast to come.  Come and see the man who knows everything about you, yet still, loves you.  That’s why outreach is crucial, even more so, urgent.

Outreach is Necessary Because the Message is Powerful

Maybe this example will connect with you.

She was lying on the ground. In her arms, she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

Taking a bite, she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft, warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive.

Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes, the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived. Love is a costly thing. – Love is a Costly Thing, by Dick Hillis

God in His love for us and for a broken world “spared not His own Son.” God gave the mission to the church to tell the world of the everlasting, all-encompassing love of God. But God’s love came at a significant cost.  Believers, we must tell the world regardless of any personal cost to us. Outreach is an expression of that love’s cost. Our faith costs parents and sons and daughters, relationships. Faith costs the missionary life itself. In his love for Christ, the missionary must give up all to make the Savior known. You are a missionary. The world needs to hear your message of the salvation.  Look around you, there is brokenness, there is hatred, there is racial division, and there is anger.  The only thing that breaks the hold Satan has on the world is the power of forgiveness offered to the world through faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ love breaks through hatred, division, and brokenness.  So, saints of God let your love for Christ, cost you something, and we will together live out the mission of inviting people to experience a foretaste of the feast to come.   Outreach is telling a lost and dying world of God’s costly love for us in Christ Jesus. Go, and be an outreach fanatic!

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Missional communities

How Missional Communities Are Not Your Father’s Small Group Ministry

lightstock_31670_small_byrene_haneyAnyone at all who is acquainted with me realizes that when I do anything, I go all in or not at all.   When our church decided to launch into a small group ministry, I studied at the feet of the very best.  At that moment, it was Rev. Dale Galloway and his 20/20 Life Transforming Small Group ministry program.  His flock has figured out a system to do small group ministry in a way to not only enhance the arm of pastoral care and outreach but also to cultivate leaders.

Developing saints is essential to my approach of what a church is called to do.  So, when I first discovered this new thing, Missional Communities (MC’s as will call them), I falsely assumed it was just the resurrection of small group ministry.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have concluded that MC’s are small groups on steroids.  Join with me as we explore the key foundational elements of MC’s.  It is not my objective to weigh in on whether or not MC’s are good or bad, but to start the conversation.  I am by no means a specialist.   I have not led one even though I remain fascinated by the potentialities.

Two Central Goals of Missional Communities:

  1. MC’s regularly engage in a Third Space.  A third space is a neutral location. It is an area your group regularly gathers to bask in each other’s company and promote what Hugh Halter, one of the earlier leaders of this movement calls “inclusive community.”
  2. MC’s seek opportunities for Service.  These service opportunities happen when the groups find occasions to meet the needs of and bless people in their enclave or some other neighboring community, the desire to live a Matthew 25:40 life, serving the least of these.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40

Four Key Elements Required:

Two ways MC’s differ from small groups are the size of the group and its desired outcomes.   A Missional Community is a group of approximately 18-40 people who are seeking to reach a distinct neighborhood or connect with an individual network of relationships with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

  1. It is a mid-size group of committed people – Sizes is necessary! Missional communities fit into a place between small groups, but less than a congregation.

“Small enough to nurture and support” – Think of MC’s as large family. People can come and test out the concept of living life on the mission together. Missional communities also create a welcoming environment.   The groups are large enough that there is a sense of anonymity.  MC’s allow people to become a part of the team when they are ready while witnessing living out their faith impacting the lives of others.

“Big enough for transformational impact” – Because MC’s are large enough to have the shared resources, they can have a greater impact in their neighborhoods for causes of Christ.  Often these groups raise up leaders and send them out to plant new MC’s.

  1. Clear Missional Vision– Churches have a tendency to start many projects.  While that keeps things exciting, it also can be frustrating.  If your church or group of believers start MC’s make sure you have a clear missional focus.  Be clear what specific need you want to address. What will be your unique community context?  What is the common mission your community will be committed to?  Social justice?  Poverty?  Some have dealt with trafficking of young girls.  The vision for your MC’s will help reduce the possibility of your group becoming another social group. Mike Breen, another leader in the missional community movement, says, “Vision is the magnet that draws people to the community and the engine that keeps the community moving” (Mike Breen).
    • Question to develop your Missional Focus: Who Is God calling you to love as Jesus loved unconditionally?

 

  1. MC’s Are Organic and yet Organized– That may sound counterintuitive. MC’s are organized in that they have weekly gathering times.  This is important because that is the foundation for the growth of the depth and trust needed to be a community. That developing community is organic in you can’t plan relationships.  Relationships happen organically.  Relationships are built over time as you create natural, inclusive, intentional time for people to party together, to eat together and even grieve together. The links are organic; the events are organized.

 

  1. MC’s have accountable Leader(s) – One of the fears many have who are opposed to MC’s is that there is no congregational overseer.  However, MC’s must have clear facilitators/leaders who help organize and guide the life of the MC. While there is no church board per se, these leaders are accountable to other MC members and should be connected to the larger church.

The lower control allows the vision for each MC to come from the leaders and the group.  The MC’s can better adapt to the changing needs of the community they are serving. For high accountability, church leadership should be involved in helping MC leaders carry out the vision that God has given to him/her and their community. The church can assist the leaders by providing on-going training, support, and prayer.

While this is by no means a rigid requirement,  it is a starting point to consider if you or your congregation is thinking of dipping your toes in the missional community pool.  Come on in the water is warm, the mission opportunities great, the needs many, and workers few.

Sunday School

Have Sunday Schools Lost Their Missional Focus?

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One of the great questions the church is asking today is, “Can Sunday school programs live again?”  What is driving this inquiry is churches are finding fewer and fewer younger families attending.  In their heyday churches that were thriving and growing had large Sunday school ministries.  My first parish in Detroit would show me images of hundreds of children attending; so many in fact it led to massive building expansion programs and the birth of a Christian day school.  How do we turn back the clock and usher in those glory days again? Due to the complexity of this question, it will aid our discussion to take a trip back into time.  Where did the whole Sunday school movement begin?  And why?

The Beginning

It all began in Gloucester, England in 1780, when Robert Raikes and Thomas Stock first established a Sunday school for the poor and orphaned.  While earlier Sunday schools were operating, Raikes and Stock have become the recognized creators of the movement. Through their efforts, they led pastors and laypeople to establish similar schools throughout England, and in doing so set into motion the Sunday school ministry.  This educational endeavor spread like wildfire and by 1800, 200,000 children were enrolled in English Sunday schools, and by 1850, this number had risen to 2 million.

Its Purpose

Sunday schools were popular because they met a need.  The schools connected with individuals who found that working-class children required discipline. Out of that felt need was developed a tool to address this, Sunday instruction classes.   These Sunday and evening schools taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and catechism to the poor.  Unlike our current recruitment system, this one was determined by visits with parents, nominations from donors, and individual student applications. In its early development, students were expected to attend school four to five hours per week and they were the only educational opportunities most working-class children would ever receive. While the program received high accolades in the beginning and was celebrated as a great success, the program would later struggle to survive.

Based on historical records some of the challenges it faced were:

  • There was often ecclesiastical pressure to not teach writing on a Sunday.
  • Debates raged whether teaching the lower classes was, in fact, a good idea; there were worries that such education would lead them to forget their station in life.
  • The Church of England often could not support the schools or provide them with adequate space or funds. [1]

 

How was Sunday School Financed? 

These schools were financed by donors, who were urged to nominate children for enrollment. To gain further and on-going support, patrons were invited to visit the schools to oversee the progress the children were making in their lessons. This role would be that of a modern-day superintendent. And a novel idea developed, the teachers (men and women) were paid.  Classes were often held in a person’s home, or in rented space.

Sunday schools caught on rapidly and were compelling because they were simple and served a noble purpose, the education of the poor and disadvantaged. They were a way for children to take their minds off of their dire situation and for parents to socially elevate the whole family. Education did not just end with the kids.  It was a lifeline to a better life.  It often spread to the parents and like today, the children were actively encouraged to take lessons and books home to share with their parents.

The Sunday schools in England became an important method of creating social interaction for a class of children and parents who were rapidly moving away from small, interconnected family settings in rural communities to large, over-populated, condensed urban centers.

Meanwhile, in America, the first national Sunday school effort began in 1824.  In the beginning, its stated purpose was to “organize, evangelize and civilize.” The focus was intentionally mission focused.  Over the next 100 years, the Sunday school became the primary outreach arm of the church. Sunday school ministry then expanded to embrace all ages. Sunday School became a vital tool to reach out to the unchurched in the community and introduced them to an authentic relationship with Jesus.  Once they became members, Sunday school served as an efficient assimilation process into the life of the church.  By the end of the 1800’s, Sunday school was viewed as the primary prospect for church multiplication and that hope is still alive and well in the twenty-first century.

The Decline

Finally, all things have a life cycle. Today’s sad reality is Sunday school attendance has seen a slow decrease in the last 50 or so years. What has been the biggest culprit in decline?  One might argue the shift away from the emphasis on evangelism to more of a program based on learning Bible stories and fellowship.  Studies support the notion that in those places that Sunday Schools are thriving and are growing, church membership is also increasing.  Church vitality is closely connected to the health of the Sunday school ministry.

The Hope for the Future

With the declining numbers of young people and families on the premises, this idea of Sunday School as a primary opportunity for evangelism is not lost on the church. Thus, the goal of this series’ question “Can Sunday school live again” is to explore how we can recreate a movement that meets a need for young children and families.  Is that Sunday school or something else? Can Sunday school thrive again and be the model again that can help revitalize our churches? Before we conclude the series, we will together discover models that are working, and hopefully, this will spark a return to our evangelistic roots.

[1] http://digital.library.mcgill.ca/sunday/hist1.htm

 

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/18/four-modern-sunday-school-strategies/

 

 

 

 

Community Outreach

Two Ways to Bring Christ to Culture

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Christians are losing their power and influence … because they are losing their separateness.- Charlene Kaemmerling

When Robert Ingersoll, the famous atheist, was lecturing, he once took out his watch and declared, “I will give God five minutes to strike me dead for the things I have said.” The minutes ticked off as he held the watch and waited. In about four-and-a-half minutes, some women began fainting, but nothing happened. When the five minutes were up, Ingersoll put the watch into his pocket. When that incident reached the ears of a certain preacher, Joseph Parker, he asked, “And did the gentleman think he could exhaust the patience of the Eternal God in five minutes?” [1]

The world outside of God’s sheepfold is fond of playing this game of spiritual chicken.  “Come on God prove to me you exist.”  As Paul faced the religious skeptics in Athens, he explained a foreign concept to them, the patience of God.  People are familiar with the wrath of God, or so they think, but patience is a concept far from the mind of the skeptic.  In this post, we will cover the final two ways Paul turned their religious thinking on its head and left the learned spinning in their philosophical seats.

Jesus is the Savior (v. 30).

 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  As Paul brought his arguments to a close, he summarized the clear evidence of God’s patience and the power of His grace. For centuries, God was patient with man’s sin and obliviousness.

“This was to show God’s righteousness because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” Romans 3:25

Let’s not get things confused here.  This by no means indicates that humanity was not guilty, as You will see below in Romans 1.

For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Romans 1:19–23.

What Romans 1, does reveal is that God withheld His divine wrath.  Does that fit the narrative of a God who wants to punish all humanity in a whimsical sort of way?  It instead exposes a different side of God that we Christians know all too well; God is a God of love.  In His time God sent a Savior, and now He commands all men to repent of their foolish ways. This Saviour was killed and then raised from the dead, and one day, Jesus will return to judge the world. The proof that He will judge is that He was raised from the dead.

Paul wipes away the prideful Greek culture by calling it “times of ignorance.” With all their knowledge and learned thinking, and being the height of culture, the Greeks failed to find the true nature of God. If humanity just repents and believes, God is ready and will forgive no strings attached.

Jesus is the Judge (v. 31).

 “…because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this, he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:31

There will come a day when God will judge. God has appointed a day of judgment, and the Judge will be His Son, Jesus Christ. Why that should give us comfort is that this is not some distant judge, but one who understands our struggles and our temptations because he has experienced them Himself. For us as believer’s, judgment day is not a day of dread but a time of celebration.   If we trust Christ through faith in His death and resurrection, He will save us.  However, if we reject Him, tomorrow He will judge us.

The people of Athens responded with three different attitudes toward the Gospel. Surprisingly enough those responses are still relevant today.  1) Some people openly oppose the Word, 2) some will mock it and even openly challenge God to prove His existence as in the opening illustration, and 3) some receive the Word gladly and believe. We cannot control the response.  We are not called to, that is all the work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit produces faith.

God calls us to be seed-planters and not to grow tired and discouraged.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

The proof of the pre-eminence of Christ is the resurrection. It is no unknown God but a risen Christ with whom we have to deal. And this Christ has died and risen from the dead for you and for me, and invites us to believe on Him and live forever with him in Eternity.  Does it make sense to the learned, NO?  It is a message and a gift that we receive by faith alone. The Holy Spirit makes the Unknown Savior, Jesus Christ the God of our Salvation.

[1]  Jones, G. C. (1986). 1000 illustrations for preaching and teaching (pp. 146–147). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

 

The other post in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/05/24/where-did-we-come-from-and-where-are-we-going

 

 

 

 

Millennials

Millennials Are More Than A Target Market

Young Men and Women of Different Ethnic Groups

Here is some breaking news for all those congregations trying to market their ministry to reach Millennials.

Millennials are people.  They are more than a group to target market. They are not just a set of numbers that add to the gross national product.  Millennials are the salvation of the local church. They are not a bunch of group marketing test subjects. They do not all think alike anymore that Generation X’s are all the same. Millennials are not a bunch of whiney, entitled, self-centered adults as some in my generation have pegged them.  What this generation offers to the world is a passion and knowledge base not seen in previous generations.  They are people who have hurts, pain, struggles, and an ambition for a better life for their families.  In that regard, they are like everyone else. To understand this talented group, you need to stop reading studies, stop studying statistics about them and be willing to have a conversation with them.

“We were completely surprised,” said J. Walter Thompson’s Ann Mack. “There has been a faulty portrayal of millennials by the media. These people are not the self-entitled, coddled slackers they’re made out to be. Misnomers and myths about them are all over the place.” (UPI 3/30/08)

Here are some things I have discovered to talking with Millennials. I will say this upfront, I am by no means an expert, but I do love to study people. So, this is not scientific, and I would like my Millennial followers to fill in the gaps of my observations.

Observation 1: Millennials tend to have an inner calling to give and make a difference in the world.

I would describe this in Biblical terms. In a John 13 mindset. Here is that section of Scripture.

 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he sent a message to the world that the idea of power, prestige, and position has been turned upside down.  How can the King of the universe take on the passive role of a servant?  I love how William Barclay describes the meaning of the foot washing event.

“Jesus knew all things had been given into his hands. He knew that his hour of humiliation was near, but he was aware that his hour of glory was also near. Such a consciousness might well have filled him with pride; and yet, with the knowledge of the power and the glory that were his, he washed his disciples’ feet. At that moment when he might have had supreme pride, he had supreme humility. Love is always like that.”[1] 

In this foot washing context, a Millennial might see this strange Rabbi as a compassionate leader.  What a shift, a leader who is a servant first.  They would connect with a leader who sees the bigger picture.  Jesus noticed the hurting.  He had compassion on the masses.  Jesus stopped to impact and transform the lives of the community.  All things that the Millennials I have the pleasure of interacting and connecting with value.

Observation Two: A Different Kind of Leadership Needed.

What I have noticed with this Millennial generation is that they get service.  What I see in many Millennials is a desire to make an immediate positive impact on the world in which they live. My generation tended to emphasize that winning at all costs is the goal.  We were taught to value rugged individualism.  So, we struggle to understand this generation that leans toward working as a collective.  Millennials that I have collaborated with value servant leadership.  Give me the problem and then stand back and let us as a team figure out creative solutions.  They learned to think more about people than themselves. Millennials tend to function better with social interaction.  So, this servant leadership model that Jesus lays out for the disciples resonates with this generation.

In a book by David Stark, he includes this quote, “Ordinary people, concerned by a problem, an issue, or injustice, have been empowered to become extraordinary champions of change. This is the Millennial approach to activism, as well as to business, personal attitudes, and sometimes overall life choices…Millennials have high ideals. But they also know their ideal must be actionable and realizable.”

To engage with some of these passionate young people, remember they are more well-rounded, intelligent and loving than many have reported.

Stay tuned more observations to come. In the meantime here are other posts.
https://revheadpin.org/2016/12/24/a-new-way-to-reach-millennials/
https://revheadpin.org/2016/05/17/simple-plan-to-worship

[1]  Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of John (Vol. 2, p. 160). Louisville, KY: Edinburgh.