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Outreach and In-Reach

OUTREACH AND IN-REACH

A holistic church is not a social service agency. Though this distinction sounds
obvious, it can easily get lost in all the talk these days about the role of the church in caring
for community needs. Churches don’t exist primarily in order to provide services; outreach
programs are only one way that the church fulfills its mission. Likewise, a church is more
than a mission agency. It has a purpose beyond replicating itself in new believers. It is
tragic if the church’s whole focus is on bringing people into the church, but nothing of
significance happens once they get there. Thus whatever the church does to reach and
serve those outside the church—soup kitchen, after-school tutoring, street evangelism,
lobbying city hall—must be considered in the context of the church’s whole identity.
Thus, we here take a step backward from the task of developing social ministries to
look at who they are as a body of believers called to follow Christ’s example of service and
to share God’s love for the world. We are used to thinking about ministry in terms of
projects and programs, but we must not lose sight of how these programs relate to the
church as a whole. Holistic ministry represents not only a program but a Christian
community, a group of loving people committed to the Lord, to one another and to service.
It is this body of believers that provides the setting for helping people, empowering social
change, and telling the world about Christ.

Holistic Mission and Congregational Ministry

When Phil Olson was a mission pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Mt. Holly,
he brought new energy and ideas to the church’s local mission. He helped organize new
initiatives, raise funds and recruit volunteers for service projects, and develop partnerships
with other churches and community Then came the day a church member vented: “You
care more about them than you do about us!” In a way, she was right. As mission pastor,
outreach was Phil’s job. Yet the incident confirmed for Phil that providing pastoral care,
nurturing and mentoring people in their faith, bringing members together in worship, and
serving in Christ’s name in the community must all fit together in mutual support.

One of the key challenges churches face in the development of holistic mission is
crafting the delicate balance between nurture and outreach. As the last chapter made clear,
if a congregation becomes overly focused on its own needs, it becomes a social club that
never gets around to carrying out the work of the Kingdom for others. On the other hand,
the people of God can’t reach out effectively if they’re hurting, vision-less, ill-equipped or
divided. The church cannot help new converts grow if it lacks strong ministries of
discipleship and fellowship. As Bishop Dickie Robbins puts it, “If you don’t have healthy
people, then you don’t have a healthy approach to ministry.”

How can church leaders build up a healthy congregational base for community
ministry? Sometimes a commitment to outreach comes into competition with other church
priorities, such as nurturing the spiritual life of members. Sometimes the outreach arm of
the church stakes out its territory and carries out its business independent of the other
parts. To function as the organic whole envisioned by Paul’s “body” metaphor (1 Cor. 12),
the many functions of a church must be unified by a vision of its overall nature and mission.
We look at several ways that “outreach” and “in-reach” are mutually supportive.

Worship

”One of the things that worship does, aside from honoring God, [is] it recharges the
troops,” says Rev. Bill Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church. “It’s a part of the
joy of the journey to come and get recharged, and to go back again. . . . That’s what
worship ought to do—it ought to inspire people, it ought to challenge people through the
Word to go out there and get ‘em.”

Rev. Moore’s words illuminate the natural rhythms of holistic ministry. We gather
together before God to receive grace, instruction, and empowerment. We go out from
God’s presence to share what we have received, as individuals or in small groups. We
come back together to celebrate what God has done, and to be renewed for the next round.
When members of a congregation encounter the Lord in worship, either in jubilant
celebration of God’s sovereignty or in quiet moments of adoring intimacy, they are
reminded of why all the effort and frustrations of outreach are worth it.

Worship also nurtures the spiritual gifts and passion needed for ministry (1 Cor.
14:12). The Holy Spirit can move uniquely and powerfully in a body of believers when it is
gathered in the unity of worship (Acts 2:1–4). Training programs are necessary to teach the
principles and skills of holistic ministry, but the congregation also needs the spiritual
preparation that happens uniquely through the corporate experience of God’s grace. Nile
Harper’s study of churches around the country with dynamic outreach found that one
common denominator is “worship [that] is spiritually powerful, culturally diverse, and directly
related to mission.” Such worship moves people “to act from faith, hope, and love in order
to bring compassion, new life, and justice into neighborhoods.”

Vibrant worship solidifies the fruit of holistic ministry. As people come to a worship
service for the first time as a result of a church outreach, they are “hooked” by an authentic,
exciting, culturally relevant worship service. On the other hand, if spiritual seekers or new
converts hear from ministry staff about the joyous blessings of following God, and then they
visit the church and everyone looks bored or distracted—which message are they likely to
believe?

No one is bored during worship at Faith Assembly of God. A lay leader describes
their church services, “God is here. That’s the bottom line, and that’s what I tell people
when they come and say, ‘Wow, I’ve never been to a church like this.’ . . . You’ve been in
the presence of God. . . . It’s not just a ritual and somebody speaking across the pulpit
while you’re yawning—no! There’s a lot of life here.” At Faith, that “life” takes a very
charismatic form: people dancing, praying in tongues, shouting ecstatic praise to God. But
churches don’t have to be “charismatic” to enjoy lively, contagious worship.

Finally, worship helps the church keep everything else in perspective. The final
destination of every Christian is to bow in adoration before the throne of the Lamb (Rev.
7:9–12). Heaven and earth will pass away, but songs of praise will go on forever. “Our
ultimate purpose” in holistic ministry, Amy Sherman reminds us, is “to bring about a
restoration that leads us, and those we serve, to praise and worship King Jesus from atop
the wall of rebuilt lives.” That praise continues forever!

Sacraments

The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper unite the inward and outward
tasks of the church. The historic rituals of the church are not only intensely spiritual acts,
communicating the mysteries at the heart of the divine-human relationship. Sacramental
acts also involve a horizontal dimension. As Darrell Guder writes, the sacraments “have
communal and missional meaning from the outset: by their very nature they are social,
visible, practical, and public. . . . These practices not only form and guide the internal life
of the community but also define the church’s action within the world.”

The Lord’s Supper has its roots in the celebration of Passover, a Hebrew feast
marking the deliverance of the Israelites from the oppression of Egyptian slavery. As they
partook of the Passover feast down through the years, the Israelites were to remember
what it was like to be a slave and to renew their commitment to treat poor persons and
“aliens” (those without legal standing in the community) with compassion and dignity. The
Israelites were to show mercy to the vulnerable because God had showed them mercy.
Similarly, the celebration of our salvation in the taking of Communion should reinvigorate
our own commitment to show sacrificial compassion to the vulnerable, and to share the
good news of our spiritual liberation through Christ.

Paul made it clear that the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is distorted when
celebrants participate only for their own benefit, while ignoring the material needs of other
members (1 Cor. 11:21–22). The taking of Communion is both a private event, in which we
examine our conscience and rejoice in our personal salvation, and an expression of our
public mission to love others as we ourselves have been loved. In this way, Guder writes,
“The practice of breaking bread together is to cultivate communities of gratitude and
generosity in solidarity with the hungry, dispossessed, and marginalized.”7

One seldom-practiced Christian ritual that has powerful symbolic meaning for holistic
ministry is foot-washing. (John 13:4–17). Jesus astonished his disciples by stripping to the
waist, taking a basin and a towel, and washing each one’s feet. In Jesus’ day, this humble
task was reserved for servants. Jesus then spelled out for his disciples the meaning of his
action, and commanded them to imitate it: “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your
feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you
also should do as I have done to you” (vv. 14–15). Your church might consider reviving the
practice of foot-washing, as is preserved in many Anabaptist churches, as a symbolic
gesture of reconciliation within the body of Christ, and of dedication to a life of Christ-like
servanthood.

Church leaders will need to spell out for the congregation the implications of the
sacraments for the church’s “social, visible, practical and public” ministry. We have been
so ingrained to think of everything that happens in a church service in terms of “me and
Jesus” that making connections with the church’s broader holistic mission will not come
naturally. Members need to see how bringing a holistic perspective to sacred rituals can
both expand their understanding of holistic ministry and strengthen their commitment to it.

Tithing

Tithes and offerings are critical to holistic ministry, not only because they pay the
bills but because they represent members’ support for the vision. Hebrew law emphasized
the connection between tithing and aid to poor households.
Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and
store it within your towns; the Levites, . . . as well as the resident aliens, the
orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the LORD
your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. (Deuteronomy
14:28–29)

The tithe does not belong to the church. As Malachi 3 makes clear, it belongs to
God. Malachi 3:10 directs the people of God to “bring the full tithe into the storehouse.” The
church, as a “storehouse,” gathers in the tithes and offerings, but they are not all to stay
there. In God’s plan, the church is not a sponge soaking up handouts, or a spiritual
investment bank where people make deposits to be cashed in later. Rather, Deuteronomy
14 portrays the congregation more like a distribution center, collecting the money that
rightfully belongs to God and apportioning resources to those who do the work of the
congregation and to those on the economic and social margins. Christians are also to give
individually to charity; but it is also part of God’s design for the church as a collective body
to pool its resources for the sake of people in need (Acts 2:45). Malachi further shows the
connection between the failure of God’s people to tithe fully or in the right spirit, and the
lack of justice and moral integrity in the land (2:13–17, 3:8–9).

New Creation Lutheran Church has found a creative way to fulfill this call to use the
tithe to aid those in need. Every month the church “tithes” its tithes. It donates ten percent
of all that members give to the church to a particular charity or mission, from
denominational ministries to missionaries to local nonprofits. The recipient agency is
announced in the bulletin. New Creation is by no means a wealthy church. It can barely
meet its own budget. Yet the church sets an example to its members, most of whom also
struggle to meet expenses from week to week, by giving sacrificially to help others.

Effective holistic ministry depends on vibrant worship, sound discipleship, and loving
fellowship within the congregation. When Christians truly love one another and meet one
another’s needs, when they experience growth and unity in Christ, and when their lives
display the wonders of the Spirit, then congregations become powerfully attractive and
transformational communities. Again and again, we heard pastors say that without strong
nurture ministries, their church could not sustain community outreach. But a healthy church
becomes a vessel through which God can pour the Good News of salvation into the world.

 


Adapted from Ronald J. Sider, Philip N. Olson and Heidi Rolland Unruh, Churches That Make a Difference: Reaching
Your Community with Good News and Good Works, chapter 8. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker
Book House Company, copyright (c) 2002.

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