The Topography of outreach

This image reminds of the topographical maps that I’ve used on hiking trips, where the change in elevation is clear but the nature of the terrain is mostly a mystery.  You know you’ll be trudging uphill, ambling down, or cursing along flat ground, but only get hints of what the scenery might be like.  

This Saturday we took participants in the church plant through some training on outreach and what that might look like at Grace Pres. Worcester.  Below is our topographical map, that shows the essential shape of our efforts to reach others with the good news of Jesus.  Next, we’re working together to understand the scenery – what will it look like to walk along these lines and implement specific practices at this stage of our church’s life.  

** One caveat, so much of what I’ll say I have drawn from others.  I give some specific credit to others but mostly refrain for two reasons.  .  First, I forget where I learn things.  Second, most of what I’ve learned from others has become interwoven with my own thoughts such that the best things I have to say, most likely come from someone else, even though they are recast in my words.  **

1. Cause: While the world is full of causes (feeding the poor, mentoring youth, adopting stray puppies, preserving historic architecture, etc.) the great cause is to bring glory to God.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.”  (Romans 11)  God is glorified, primarily in people and he uses his church for this purpose.  The great cause of the church is to see people come to faith in Christ and be joined to his people through baptism so that their lives reflect who God intended us to be (Matthew 28:19-20).  I’ve often heart it said that outreach and mission exist because worship does not. 

2. Command: Jesus words from Matthew 28, 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

These words reminding us of God’s great cause and his promise to be with us in this work are unmistakingly given as a command. As a church we cannot be faithful to Jesus’ vision for the church without obeying his command to participate in his cause by making disciples of all nations.  While outreach will look different with changing circumstances there will never be a time when can disregard it.  

3. Compassion: What will compel and empower us to obey God’s command?  Ultimately, it is the love of Christ. The great end of human life is to love God with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus not only loved God but again and again, looked on humanity in its sinful state with compassion. His compassion must fill us.  I think of the Apostle Paul’s words concerning his fellow Jews,

“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”

We must have an appropriate anguish and holy discontent until God works in this city and we see more of his kingdom come.  

4. Conversion: Jesus says that the goal is nothing less that spiritual rebirth, people coming from death to life. We do not merely want a singular “decision” that lacks follow through but wholehearted disciples of Christ. The indication of true conversion is a life reoriented from serving false Gods to worshiping the true and living God (1 Thes 1). Only God can bring about such change and Jesus helps us understand our by making comparison to a farmer sowing seed.  As we tell the good news of Jesus, we plant the seed but cannot control whether it will take root and grow (Matthew 13). Also like the farmer we are committed to the process of sowing, watering, and harvesting.  We must work in faith with the unique task given and remain steady until the time of harvest, trusting God for growth.  

5.  Design: In designing our evangelistic efforts there are two parallel tracks which need to exist, relationally driven and ministry driven evangelism. Relationally driven evangelism means that each member of the church is praying for their non-Christian friends, family members, and associates, looking for entry points for the truth of the gospel, and building connections so that the life of the church can be seen for those outside of it. Ministry driven evangelism means that the ministry is the initial point of contact and that from the start people know that we are Christians and are there to talk about Jesus. There are significant points of overlap between these two overarching strategies but they are distinct in where they begin and both come with strengths and weaknesses.  


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