Sunday, July 27, 2008

Relational Outreach

This is the second week in this blog, where we're looking at the five strategies we have for being a more effective reconciling community (2 Cor. 5:18). Last week, we discussed Love-Motivated Service; this week, we're looking at Relational Outreach.

We, like most churches, have a few big "outreach events" that are scattered throughout the year: Chili Cook-off Booth (Winter); Easter Egg Hunt (Spring); Soccer Camp (Summer); Trunk Or Treat (Fall). Additionally, in the past, we've done other outreach events, such as a Dinner Theatre, a Car Show, and serving hot chocolate at events downtown.

Another approach we utilize for outreach is periodically printing postcards for series that we believe will resonate with unchurched people. Sometimes we hand these out at our outreach events, inviting people to return for an upcoming series.

I believe outreach events are a good idea, and we will continue to have them. However, the fact that we emphasize these events and call on the church body to be involved, has the unintended consequence, I think, of causing many of us to view our church's outreach strategy as being event-driven (whether the event is Soccer Camp or a worship service), rather than relationship-driven.

We do outreach events, but the truth is that our strategy is not to reach people with events, but to reach people with relationships. The events are simply there to serve as tools for the relationships. Let me explain.

Many unchurched people are uncomfortable with churches and church people. They've had bad experiences in the past, or they've heard plenty of horror stories from others, and they have their guard up. Northwest Nick's guard comes down as a result of someone getting close to him--a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend from the gym, a repeat customer--someone that he can see is 1) a Christ-follower and 2) different than his preconceptions.

Northwest Nick may still be hesitant to walk into a worship service--that can be very intimidating--but if his friend invites him to bring his kids to Soccer Camp, or to come to a Lugnuts baseball game, or some other event, that's often an easier step for him to take. Then, once he comes and interacts with more people, Nick is hopefully saying, "This church could be different. A lot of these people seem really genuine." The event has served to bring him one step closer to Christ.

Then Nick's friend invites him to come to a worship service. The friend gives him a postcard that has all the information on it--what, where, when, a website to check out. The postcard with all the information helps Nick know what to expect--it reduces the unknown and the anxiety that the unknown generates in our minds. He may or may not come this time, but he feels welcome and possibly interested. Eventually, Nick may choose to check it out.

This is relational outreach. The events and the postcards are not there to do the work all by themselves in a vacuum. They are part of a relational outreach strategy that depends on each of us to build our own relationships with unchurched people. Without the relationships undergirding the process, the events and postcards lose most of their effectiveness.

This last week, we had Soccer Camp. Normal registration costs were $15 per child for the week (a bargain for the personal attention, the snacks, the crafts, the T-shirt, and the picture w/ frame that each child received).

But we waived the fee for kids who have been involved in our SPLASH ministry this summer for single parents. First of all, we know that single parents often struggle financially, and we didn't want them to be excluded from Soccer Camp for financial reasons. But, more importantly, those are relationships that we've already established, and now we want to develop them. We want to expand their connection with our church. We want them to meet more people and get drawn into this community of Christ-followers. That's relational outreach.

We can't say we did outreach just because we had an outreach event. Events are great, but they don't often bear much fruit on their own. People who show up for an event, absent a relationship, are usually not interested in anything other than the event.

  • Parents who bring their kids to Soccer Camp just want their kids to have fun playing soccer;
  • Parents who bring their kids to the Easter Egg Hunt or to Trunk or Treat just want their kids to get candy and prizes;
  • People who come to a Dinner Theatre just want good food and a good show.

But people who already have an authentic, positive relationship with someone in our church are often interested in acquiring more authentic, positive relationships.

Now, there are exceptions to the rule, of course. There are people who just walk in off the street and pick our church at random. There are people who just moved into the neighborhood and are looking for a church. There are people who came to an event here 10 years ago, but now they're struggling with a divorce, and they're searching for something. Outreach can happen without a relationship, but it's often accidental.

We can't rely on accidents to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. We have to be strategic. Our strategy is to intentionally focus on Relational Outreach.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Love-Motivated Service

Whenever we serve, it's always for someone else; real service is inherently other-focused. Just think about all the ways we experience service in our everyday lives:

  • The mechanic in your local garage is there to provide service for your vehicle--not his. His garage doesn't exist for him alone, but rather to offer a quality service experience to you and anyone else who needs help with their car.
  • The server in your local restaurant is there not just to serve you dinner, but in fact to serve all your needs while dining--your needs, not theirs. Their job is to provide you with an exceptional dining experience (and the food is actually only one part of that service).
  • If you have trouble with a product that you buy, most of the time you can call their Customer Service department. Their job is to do everything they can to resolve your problem to your satisfaction--they're there to serve the customer... at least, in theory. If they don't do a good job, you will say you did not get good service.
In truth, self-service is no service at all. When you drive up to a gas pump, swipe your own debit card, fill up your car for an obscene amount of money, check your own fluids, wipe your own windshield, and oversee all aspects of your own transaction, you've made a purchase, but you have not given yourself a service. No one leaves a gas station remarking on how well they served themselves. Service is always for someone else. To serve is to direct your talents and energies to the benefit of others.

But why would we do that? What could possibly be our motivation for serving others? Our capitalistic economy is designed to reward good service with money. That's the motivation for the auto mechanic, the restaurant server, and the Customer Service department; their goal is to maximize their bottom lines. The better they serve, the more money they generate for themselves.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that. I think it's rather ingenious that we've created an economic system where people are actually rewarded for doing something they're unlikely to do voluntarily, but which everyone needs and everyone benefits from.

But that can't be our motivation at PCC for serving others. We don't serve so that we can get money. We also don't serve in order to see some pre-determined result. As much as we want to see people come to faith in Christ, give their lives and hearts to him, and experience the life-transforming power he offers, we can't hold that out as a reason for serving people. Because what if they don't? What if they don't become believers? Does that mean we stop serving them? How would we know when we've served someone "long enough"? Service can't be used as a manipulation tool--that would make it something other than service.

Additionally, we don't serve out of guilt, duty, obligation, to fulfill our own needs, or to gain recognition. If we serve for any of these reasons, our service is not truly focused on others, but on ourselves. We're really only serving for what we can get out of it--much like the server at the restaurant.

At PCC, we believe that there can only be one good motivation for serving, and that motivation is love--love for other people. We want everyone who serves to recognize exactly how their service benefits others, and to be motivated by genuine love for those they serve.
  • Our ushers greet people and make them feel welcome every Sunday. They provide them with a bulletin, which is the main communication tool for our church, helping us all stay connected with one another. They answer questions and help direct visitors to the nursery or the children's wing downstairs. Our ushers provide a tremendous service, motivated by a sincere love for everyone who walks in the door.
  • Our lawn crew keeps the grass mowed and edged. This makes it safe for everyone who comes, so that we don't have snakes and other critters taking up residence in some long, weedy hayfield that occupies the space where our lawn used to be. It also makes it attractive to the community that drives by the church, rather than making an unkempt property that repels people. This is a love-motivated service.
  • And more could be said about nursery workers, children's ministry workers, sound & video techs, small group leaders, youth group volunteers, worship musicians, and others.

Every ministry of our church meets one or more needs with love. All of our ministries are about loving people, and those who serve hopefully do so out of a motivation of love. If you are reading this, and you have a ministry in the church, I'd invite you to think about what needs your ministry meets for people, and how you can demonstrate love for them through your service.

This week, we have a great opportunity in Soccer Camp to give love-motivated service to our entire community, as dozens of kids (and their parents) come to us for a week of soccer and fun. If you haven't signed up yet to serve, just contact Pastor Brent, our Soccer Camp Director, and he'll be happy to find a way that you can get plugged in (no soccer skills required!!!).

In the fall, we'll be launching a new ministry in partnership with the Northwest School District, called Kids Hope USA. It's a mentoring program for at-risk elementary age children. The principal will select the children who qualify for the program; our church will supply the mentors who commit to spending one hour a week with their child at the school. This program has had a tremendous impact in schools around the country, and it's one more way that we can provide love-motivated service to the people around us.

Every person is a person created in God's image. Every person is a person that God loves. Every person is a person that God wants us to love. But let us not love people with words only and vague notions, but with actions that actually demonstrate that our love is real. Let us love with service.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why Do We Do What We Do? (Part 2)

Last week, I wrote a post about why we do what we do--as Christians, as a church--looking at Paul's teachings in 2 Corinthians 5-6. And I said, "Everything that we do at Pathway Community Church is about becoming a more effective reconciling community."

But this week, I want to break that down a little bit. I want to move from the abstract and theoretical to the concrete and practical. How are we a reconciling community? In what way do these things that we do help us to accomplish the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18)? There are lots of ways to "do church"--why do we do things this way?

In essence, this is a question about strategy. If we agree that every church and every individual ought to be about the business of using the gifts of the Spirit to serve, reaching out to unbelievers with the good news of Jesus, worshiping God in words and actions, loving one another in fellowship, and growing in maturity and Christ-likeness--if we agree that those are our basic functions--then what is our strategy for accomplishing them? How do these things work in our church? Why do we do things this way?

I spent some time last week thinking about each of these 5 basic functions of the church, trying to encapsulate our strategy in a single phrase, and here's what I came up with:

1. Love-Motivated Service
There are lots of potential motivations for serving--guilt, duty, obligation, need, recognition. But we want our service to be motivated by love. We want everyone who serves to recognize the way that they are serving others, and to be motivated by love for the others whom they serve. We also want people to love the service that they do (not to feel worn out and burdened down by it), and that happens when they serve according to the way that God has shaped them.

2. Relational Outreach
I think there's a tendency to view outreach from an event-oriented perspective. But outreach events do not constitute outreach in themselves. Really, they act as tools to assist those in our church who are developing relationships as one more relationship-building opportunity. Our outreach happens as we get close to people in relationships and invite them to a relationship not just with us, but with Christ as well.

3. Accessible Worship
Our worship services are not designed to "attract" unchurched people or to "bring people in." The only people who even know what our worship services are like are the ones who come to them. Rather, the services are designed to be intelligible and understandable to anyone who does come, whether they've never set foot inside a church in their lives, or if they've been a follower of Christ for 20 years.

4. Welcoming Community
As people come into our church, we want them not only to feel welcome, but to actually be welcomed--with open arms. We want people to know that this is a safe place, where they will be loved and supported in their pursuit of Christ, a place where they can be authentic, sharing their needs, their fears, their struggles, and their questions, along with their joys and hopes. We want people to be connected into a family.

5. Life-On-Life Discipleship
We believe that the best way to grow closer to Christ is to do it in community, in the middle of a process of sharing life with other people. There are exceptions, but in general it is very hard to grow significantly as a Christian without deep and sincere relationships with other Christians. As we share life together, we get to see how others deal with their problems in a biblical way, we experience others praying for us as we face our own, and we have a network of support in times of crisis. The Christian life is more caught than taught because it's not about a list of doctrines that have to be memorized--it's about living a life under the direction and leadership of Jesus.

This is why we do what we do:

  • "No one serves alone" so that we can build relationships, welcoming people into the community and providing them with a place that they can contribute and share according to how God has shaped them.
  • We print postcards so that we can have an easy way to invite our friends (relational outreach), providing them with all the information that they'll need to come and experience an accessible worship service and a welcoming community.
  • We have small groups that gather regularly for Bible study and fellowship so that each of us has a place where we can share life with other people who are on the same journey toward Christ-likeness that we are.
  • We plan our services in themed series so that we can connect the Bible with everyday life, making our services accessible for as many people as possible, and providing recurring "on-ramps" for unchurched people to come and hear God's message for their lives.

It's really about making room in our lives for other people at every stage of their spiritual journeys. If it's our goal as a church to look like Christ, we need to be "other-focused"--his life was all about others, and our lives must be too. So we'll be exploring these five strategies in depth over the next five weeks in this blog.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why Do We Do What We Do?

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul discusses what it means to live our lives on earth in light of heaven. Some people are said to be "so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good." I've found that (on the contrary) the more a person understands heaven, the more good they do on earth.

The fact is that we were made to live in a perfect world (Gen. 1-2; Rev. 21-22). In fact, God "has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come" (v. 5). "So we make it our goal to please him" (v. 9), realizing that "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (v. 10).

In other words, living our lives in light of heaven means doing everything in our earthly power (and the power of God's Spirit inside us) to obey him, to follow him, to please him. Heaven is where God's will is carried out perfectly; our lives on earth are practice for our lives in heaven. Our proper goal on earth is to please God through the way we live our lives--the priorities we set, the choices we make, the relationships we nurture, the lessons we apply, the resources we steward, the services we render--all of it should be done to please God.

"Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men" (v. 11). We know the benefit of following God. We experience the love and peace of a daily relationship with him--a life with every aspect lived under his direction and care--and we want others to experience it too. In fact, "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (vv. 14-15).

The good news is a stumbling block in every culture ("foolishness to those who are perishing" - 1 Cor. 1:18). In our culture of radical tolerance and openness, it sounds narrow and arrogant for one group of people to be convinced about what some other group of people ought or ought not do. Yet, if we believe the gospel ("to us who are being saved it is the power of God" - 1 Cor. 1:18), then we are convinced that this is God's plan for all people. It is, in fact, what God made us for in the first place.

So, regardless of how it sounds, what others may think, or what consequences may come our way, the love that Christ has shown to us compels us, forces us, drives us outward to bring the great message of salvation to everyone who might receive it.

But how is this message carried? How is it to be conveyed? Paul tells us. "We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way" (6:3-4). What this means is that we make the gospel as attractive as we possibly can. The gospel itself is offensive and difficult enough; we commit to adding no extra offenses to the gospel for those who do not yet believe it.

Here are some of the ways Paul says we can commend ourselves to the unbelieving world around us (vv. 4-10):

  • endurance
  • self-sacrifice
  • hard work
  • concern and compassion
  • purity and a consistent life
  • understanding others
  • patience
  • kindness
  • the Holy Spirit
  • sincere love
  • truthful speech
  • the power of God
  • weapons of righteousness to combat evil
  • willingness to be misunderstood and attacked

Paul, in essence, says we must give up everything for the prospect of participating in the ministry of reconciliation that Christ has given us--the awesome privilege of "reconciling the world to God through Christ, not counting men's sins against them... We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (5:18-20).

Why do we do what we do? There is only one reason. Everything that we do at Pathway Community Church is about becoming a more effective reconciling community. That's it, nothing else. But it's helpful to acknowledge some corollaries that are included in this statement:

  • We want to understand our own reconciliation with God better, gaining an ever-growing appreciation and love for the person and work of Jesus Christ.
  • We want to be reconciled to one another, a community of forgiveness and love that models the character of God to one another and to the world.
  • We want to passionately break down every barrier that prevents any person from fulfilling the purpose they were created for, namely, to be reconciled to God.

A reconciling community is one that understands God's mission and applies it to every relationship, every person, every opportunity in life. "So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view... If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (5:16-18).

Why do you do what you do? Is it to become more effective in your life's mission? "As God's fellow workers, we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain" (6:1). Don't just receive it for yourself and the benefits you can get out of it, but let God's love for this world become your love as well. Let his focus become your focus. And let his cause become your cause.