The Enemy of Outreach is . . . Outreach

Written by Tony Myles for

It seems like every church has some advocate for its “outreach.” This could be a person in an official ministry role, be it paid or volunteer. In some situations, the pastor is the primary advocate (especially if he/she has a spiritual gifting in this area). Other churches rely on regularly bringing in outside perspective for this, such as a denominational representative or an itinerant speaker who tries to rally the troops toward this value.

I mention that because as you’ve been reading that second paragraph, you’ve been validating my opening statement.

In your mind, you’ve been considering how “outreach” plays out in your church or others that you’re familiar with. In doing so, you’ve been picturing various “outreach” ministries based on your definition of that word.

And that’s my primary point. “Outreach” is defined differently from person-to-person, and will ultimately be defined by the primary person(s) serving in that area.

My sense is the word refers to evangelism. Perhaps I’ve been around enough church and parachurch ministries who defined it this way that I don’t naturally conceive of it meaning anything else. If someone asks me how our church does “outreach,” I immediately wonder what we’re doing to articulate to unsaved people who Jesus Christ is.

The rub is that one of the key people who stepped into an “outreach” role in our church over the past year defined “outreach” as service projects. As he made plans for us to do things that blessed others as a tangible act of kindness, I found myself pacing around the conversation, looking for how these events told people about how they were in need of a Savior.

We were unaware of this simple difference and butted heads on it. That is until we realized how we were each coming into the conversation with competing definitions for outreach.

The enemy of my definition of outreach was his definition of outreach, and vice-versa.

Then again, these definitions really didn’t have to be enemies. They would be unless he and I recognized from a larger perspective how our definitions needed each other.

It reminds me of a peripheral tension in James 2:17-18 between “faith” and “deeds.”

…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

One core thought in that passage is that the spiritual needs the tangible, and the tangible needs the spiritual. There are other applications to those verses, but I sense this is the rub between your “outreach” and my “outreach.”

How have or haven’t you seen this play out in your ministry environments?
In what ways has the same definition or differing articulations helped/hindered “outreach” from even happening?

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