Looking Outward by Steve Sjogren

I recently sat on a two hour flight next to a guy who initially was a bit miffed when I asked if I could sit next to the window where his ticket read because I have great difficulty getting up and down on planes (my damaged legs and all). This tall guy reluctantly agreed. I am no little person myself. As we got airborne I engaged him in conversation and the mood shifted. He was wearing the shirt of his company. I have been a big fan of their culture, their founder-CEO, his amazing pioneering spirit that is rare these days. I asked him a number of burning questions I had about their inner workings. In short, we were engaged in conversation quickly.

As we spoke he mentioned he had recently moved to Tampa from Ohio… specifically Cincinnati. I asked if he had ever heard of something called the Vineyard. He said “Everyone in Cincinnati knows the Vineyard.” I told him Janie and I got the ball rolling with all the Vineyard churches in Cincinnati a bit over twenty years ago. He was unbelieving. He said, “I don’t think so – nobody started the Vineyard – it has just always been there…” I laughed! “Well, everything has a tendency to start if you think about it… Look up my name in Google.”

He started to look at me differently – like I was “them” and he was “us.” I’m used to that look. I quelled that quickly by telling him my story – how starting at age seven when my mom very rarely drug me to a certain Lutheran church I would tell her “Please don’t take me back there – that guy who speaks is a flipping hypocrite!” Since then, my challenge was not entirely with God and his reality, but with what turned out to be the linear, Americanization of the message of Jesus. Now I realize that has been the problem all along… That continues to be the problem. That will likely be the problem for a long time to come. We parted as friends. We have been emailing. He has read one of my books and we are setting up lunch that will take place soon.

Why Toxic?

If you have taken a sociology class in college you are familiar with a helpful word that described an aspect of the brokenness of all the sons and daughters of Adam – all people groups on the planet are ‘ethnocentric.’ That word means we all think our culture, our way of life is the best way of life. Further, if all the rest of the world could just see things the way we do, life on the planet would be oh so much better. If you are an American do you see how our well intentioned efforts have not been necessarily been equally received worldwide?

Also, can you see how it is virtually impossible for teachers of the scriptures in the western world (namely the U.S.) to present the scriptures without laying a lot of the U.S. – western perspective upon our teaching – impartation to those we are influencing?

That influence is what amounts to us as leaders being toxic.

Freedom from toxicity is an encyclopedia full of discussion. Step one – humility. We come before God and his word with a heart of honesty. Our prayer (in general) follows:

“On my own I will simply regurgitate what I have seen with my own eyes. I will simply react and place upon your word my humanness and my culture. Holy Spirit give me your capacity to see as you see…”

The Friends and Family Plan

Our friends and families know us best. They can be brutally honest. They know the real us–strengths and weaknesses. This was even true for Jesus. Just take a look at the first miracle he ever performed:

Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:1-11 (The Message)

Sometimes our biggest leaps in growth as we endeavor to become more outward focus will occur when we stop, look and listen to how those closest to us perceive us. Recently my father was in town and he took my brother and I out for a steak dinner at an expensive restaurant. Over an after-dinner drink and cigar, my father and brother, agnostic on their best days and pagans on their worst, expressed something that broke my heart:

“You know, I thought this church thing would be just a fad with you. I am glad you stuck with it, it has made you a better person in the long run. What I still don’t get about you and all this God stuff, is why you seem to love strangers more than your own flesh and blood.”

Wow. I was dumbfounded. How do you respond to such a brutal observation? They were right and I knew it as both of them proceeded to tell me how it made them and the rest of the family feel when I seemed more concerned with serving and loving others rather than my own family. It was a type of intervention that could only be done by men smoking cigars. It was heart-wrenching, but quite true. I had slipped out into the dangerous rapids of the OUTFLOW lifestyle and did not realize it. I was grasping onto flotsam and jetsam of this world, any that passed by, rather than taking hold of things of value.

It has long been a secret torment to me that I have had smashing success at evangelism with people I don’t know, meanwhile just about my entire family resist all forms of God and despise anything religious. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I would never lay a guilt trip on anyone about their ownership over their family’s salvation. In fact, I guess I am just thinking aloud here as I write this. I mean, if you are a regular reader of Serve! magazine, chances are you are an expert at servant evangelism. That raises a question though. How good are you at serving those closest to you? This month we are going to pause and consider this. There will not be any articles from me in this issue. Instead I am calling on wiser voices to address a serious need. How do you serve your friends and family–the people that know you best?

Here is what I do know. The bible passage above can be very helpful in this. Look at the interaction between Jesus and his mom. Maybe I am reading more into than is actually there, but I see two things in the subtext of the passage:

  • 1) Jesus seemed a bit perturbed at his mother being pushy and telling how and when do ministry.
  • 2) His mom did indeed know best. It was a very powerful miracle and seemed to solidify his disciples from a ragtag band of loose cannons into a cohesive team

So what can we learn from our families and the experience of serving them? Read the rest of this issue to learn from some of the best voices on the topic!

Doing Nothing is Hard by Joe Boyd

I think Holidays are exceptionally hard to handle for driven people. Mandatory world-wide down time is frustrating to people addicted to action and interaction. (It’s the kind of thing that could make the world’s greatest golfer freak out at two in the morning.) I put myself in the category of those addicted to action. Unplugging from the internet for about 36 hours over Thanksgiving was kind of hard for me. I had a few emails come in from some very driven, very successful people in my life on Thanksgiving night. Didn’t surprise me at all. When I was primarily a professional actor I would always send a “year in review” update to all of my professional contacts the day after Thanksgiving. It gave me something to do. Hollywood more or less shuts down between Thanksgiving and New Years. It was always maddening to go from auditioning one or two times per day to about once per week. It was depressing.

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
-Winnie the Pooh

These days my professional life is more or less defined, but I have felt those manic urges that always flood my mind after a day or two of “rest” – the compulsion to start writing a new book or to edit an old screenplay or to sign up for some obscure art appreciation class at the community college. I’ve heard that the ancients didn’t have a word for boredom. I don’t know if that is true or not…but it seems the more people have to do the more capacity we have for become bored.

Remote Race Car!
Remote Race Car!

My summer vacation this year was more working fun than resting downtime. Since then I haven’t stopped. I don’t feel physically exhausted. I’ve had days to rest and relax. I just feel like I am on one of those remote control race car tracks that goes in circles at high speeds and never ends. Here’s a helpful hint that I have learned – the harder you run, the harder it is to stop. The first few days of trying to “rest” tend to be very frustrating. It’s hard to detox from doing. At a similar time in my life years ago, I went on a spiritual retreat – 3 days of silence and solitude in a beautiful monastery in San Jose. I slept 20 of the first 24 hours. That should tell you something.

Debbie and I are heading to Cancun next week for five days to celebrate 15 years of wedded bliss. It is not our normal sort of vacation – we tend to like cities, musicals, movies and urban action. Our tenth year anniversary trip was to San Francisco. That’s more us, really. But I think this is what we need – a self-imposed lock down in an all-you-can-eat-and-drink tropical resort sounds about right for 15 years of marriage. I have a hunch the first day of doing nothing may be harder than I expect…but I fully intend to get used to doing nothing before coming back to face winter number three in the Great Midwest.

Joe Boyd
Joe Boyd

Joe Boyd is a husband, father, storyteller, teacher, improviser, writer, actor, producer, pastor, and a rebel pilgrim blindly following a jewish rabbi named Yeshua.  To connect further with Joe, visit is wild and wacky, but very insightful site today:

THE REBEL PILGRIM

He is the author of the new book: BETWEEN TWO KINGDOMS, which will be hot of the press April 2010.

Home For Christmas By Camey Gravley

Parker

Back in the summer, our youngest son, Parker was going on a mission trip to Idaho. Our 11-year-old son couldn’t wait to go share about Jesus. I knew without a doubt, I was to go with him. Not to be the “expert” on the field so to speak, but to serve along side of him. Shortly after I decided to go, my husband, and two other sons jumped on board. It was our first time away together as a family in several years. I also knew my husband was going to hear clearly from God while in the mountains. And sure enough… his cell phone rang while on a mountain in Utah. While floating in the Payette River in Idaho during what seemed like some free time, God told me to get out of the boat. While in the water, I heard clearly that we moving. Today I write this from a much different place than in my previous articles for SERVE e’zine.

For many years our family had been praying for the next place and individuals we would serve. My husband and I already had planted deep within us a love for this place and these people long before we knew the details. In 2005, when we gave away or sold almost everything we were blessed to call ours, we weren’t sure how long that part of the journey was going to last. While we wouldn’t trade a moment of taking care of my parents and serving that town and community – not even the ones that hurt like heck, we knew we wouldn’t be walking in the outflow in staying. God saw to it that every detail was taken care -that included my mom marrying again and no longer needing us to live with her. So, back during Labor Day weekend, we filled up a moving truck and with tears and yet much excitement, made our way here. In the truck were many gifts that God saw to it were ours to take freely.

We are now in a tiny town in the panhandle area of Texas. My husband is the pastor of a church here. And I am no longer a paid staff member of a church but am able to stay at home without also being a caregiver for my parent(s) while inside her walls. This is a house that happens to be located directly across the street from our physical church building. And while this house is not necessarily ours in a sense that it belongs to the church -it is very much our home. And for the first time in many years, this mom can welcome her sons to invite friends over any time. It is not uncommon to find a teenage boy whose last name is not ours – opening our frig to get some sweet tea or checking out our dining room table to see what goodies I’ve baked up in the kitchen we’re having a blast in or sitting down to eat with us.

With my husband being the new pastor here, we received several invites for Thanksgiving. Invites from where we moved from came in as well even if it meant a quick trip. But my husband and I knew we were to stay at home. And for the first time in the 20 years we’ve been married, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day together in our home with our sons. We laughed. We played games. We ate pie for breakfast instead of waiting for whatever other guests to arrive and lunch had been devoured. I even wore my sweats and didn’t have on a stitch of makeup. We were simply chilled to the max and napped for hours. It was a very different Thanksgiving Day indeed for the 5 of us.

We are blessed in the fact that all three of our sons are not only Christ-followers but get what living in the outflow really is. But there are times when it is okay to say no. Yes, even for a new pastor and his family. And at 6:00 p.m. the doorbell rang. It was a teenage boy who has been spending much time at our home. Our sons could have said, “Send him away.” Instead, he was welcomed in like every other day. He sat on the couch with my husband and I while we were watching the movie CARS with Parker. And in a moment of sheer comfort he said, “Your house is the safest place for me to be.” This Wednesday night, he said he would be across the street with us too. Remember? Across the street from our home is where the physical church building is. Showing us yet again, one can serve their family in the outflow and catch others up in the wave of God’s love and kindness.

Now that the Christmas season is upon us, may we be reminded that in training up a child – sometimes the parents can learn a lesson or two along the way. Our family looks forward to the “Parsonage Open House” we’re having on December 20th. We’re baking up goodies not only for our own church peeps but will also be taking some along with baskets of food and everyday items to neighbors here in our new community. No doubt our favorite Christmas already! And December hasn’t even officially started yet!

We are praying for you daily as you seek His Kingdom first! Remember – those closest to you are paying attention even when you’ve taken your makeup off. And may you be home for Christmas!

Camey Gravely
Camey

Camey Gravley is an Unashamed Christ-follower and Lifestyle missionary.  Her passion is to help others notice God in the moments of every day life and living. Prayer of dangerous prayers too! It is her pleasure to serve others out of the outflow of God’s love!

Fun Easy and Inexpensive Holiday Outreaches by Kindness Resources

1. Bread Giveaway

Kindness Resources
Kindness Resources

Everybody likes bread! Especially from those high-end bread stores with Bread Company somewhere in the name… Did you know that you can arrange to receive day-old bread from specialty bread stores for FREE? You can also check with national chain grocery stores that have in-house bakeries. Talk to the store manager and explain your outreach concept. Tell a few stories of the people you are helping and you will likely establish your “daily bread” connection. It will only take one or two of these connections to begin a substantial ministry in your community.

Many of these stores do not have a reliable source to distribute their old bread to. The key is to be consistent and reliable in picking up their bread. You will need to have a team and as schedule so you don’t disappoint the bread store managers. As a good public relations gesture, write a letter of thanks to the store manager for his company’s generosity to the community (and don’t be surprised to see it framed and posted on the wall of the store).

The ministry is simple and straight forward. Knock on the doors of the houses and apartments. Say, “Hi, we’re giving away fresh, free high-quality bread. Could you use some, or do you know anyone in the neighborhood who could use some?” Give recipients an outreach card and offer to pray for them as you hand out the bread.

How Do You Find People To Give Bread To?

Cold calling (just knocking on doors) in lower-income neighborhoods and apartments complexes works fine with this project. Stay away from neighborhoods closest to the donating store.

What You’ll Need

* a supply of high-quality bread

* outreach cards

2. Big Christmas Party

People in need don’t always celebrate Christmas properly because there aren’t Christ-centered celebration opportunities. You can sponsor an event that will be fun and cause everyone to focus on Jesus.

The elements of this celebration include playing games and singing songs. As you sing Christmas carols, make sure the words are available. It’s also fun to have a few inexpensive rhythm instruments to play along with.

Someone can share what Christmas is about in a very positive and upbeat way – simply explaining, “Christmas is important to me because…”

Decorations and refreshments and a meal can be simple or elaborate, depending on the inclination of your group.

For about $1 per photo, you can take Polaroid pictures of kids with an ethnically correct Santa. Design a simple backdrop and get up-close with the camera. Mount the photo on red or green construction paper and add the child’s name and year with a gold or silver marking pen.

At the conclusion of the party, give away small gifts as people depart – perhaps a Bible or devotional book. Consider giving away the decorations as well.

How Do You Find People Who Would Enjoy A Christmas Party?

Invite those who are already connected with your ministry to those in need. Give out fliers or invitations at previous events in the neighborhood, or simply walk around the neighborhood and distribute fliers.

What You’ll Need:

* facility to host the party

* Polaroid camera and film

* construction paper

* glue sticks

* gold and silver marking pens

* refreshments

* outreach cards

3. Winter Survival Kits

Winter can be hard on the body and the soul. A survival kit is great encouragement to everyone who receives one.

The kit contains a packet of facial tissue, lip balm, throat lozenges, and an outreach card.

In Action

Our churches have had great success with this project as we have aimed it at parents and business professionals. We go to parks that parents frequent with their children and downtown sidewalks as business professionals make their way out to lunch. When those we meet notice how nice the kit is, they are very grateful and usually end up striking a conversation with us.

Where To Go

* campuses

* parks

* neighborhoods

* sporting events

* downtown

* commuters

* shopping centers

What You’ll Need

* zip lock plastic bags

* lip balm

* throat lozenges

* individual packets of facial tissue

* outreach cards

Why Outreach Cards

When doing a project, it is important to have a means to connect with those you serve. An outreach card is a business-sized card you can leave with those you have served so they can get back in touch you if they desire. The idea isn’t to accomplish a sales job where you promote your church. Rather, it is a simple way to leave your church’s name, address, phone number and service times so that when future needs arise, those you’ve served will have a way of reconnecting with you. The idea is to be available without giving out personal addresses.

If you need outreach cards for your holiday projects, we highly recommend those on our sister site at KindnessResources.com.

Six Questions About Doing Outreach in Smaller Towns by Steve Sjogren

Small TownsI was recently in the New England area of the U.S. I have been pondering lately the unique aspects of doing ministry in smaller population areas like that. There are many aspects of doing outreach that are universal – as we step out to serve others we are going to find that people are pretty much the same everywhere. At the same time, there are unique features present when we are aiming at people in these areas. What do we need to keep in mind as we reach out in to rural people?

There are six basic questions we must be answer well before we are able to deeply connect with smaller communities. These are the pressing questions we will be asked when we approach the small town audience.

“Are you here to stay?” People will ask if you are doing something that is just going to be a “ship passing in the night” or if you are going to commit yourself to this area. You will be dinged effectiveness points if you come across as someone who is doing things in order to just connect initially but not at a deeper level. It is important that you connect with people in a way that is going to be perceived as lasting and deep versus light and passing. We tell our community we are here to stay partly by the atmosphere we create when we are doing outreaches. Each time you go out to do SE you have the opportunity to tell people “We are planning on living the rest of our lives in this town. We love this place!” We communicate this message in a variety of ways. At a practical level, put on your “friendly face” and you will do well at connecting with the small town audience.

“Do you love me or are you just trying to build your church through me?” If people think you are trying to use them as building blocks of your church they are less likely to warm up to you. You will be evaluated by how you connect with others. Most people who live in smaller towns feel a sense of pride about what they have accomplished in making a living for themselves in that context. There is a sense of accomplishment in these people you won’t find among urban dwellers. If you honor that sense of smaller town USA you will come across as a friend, an ally in the fight for meaning.

“How do you treat people?” In the smaller town context the way we connect with people will be under the microscope more than when we are in a larger context. The good news about doing servant evangelism in a smaller context is that people will take more notice to the way you connect with your city. That is, there is the possibility that you will make an even more enduring impact upon people than if you were merely connecting with people in a larger city. In big cities we are doing virtual stranger-to-stranger outreach. In small towns we are connecting with people who likely consider themselves friends or at least acquaintances.

“How do you see the future?” People who live in smaller communities see the future in a unique way. It is common that they view what will take place in the future through the lens of staying put in the current community. That is different than the way people in larger communities see things. Since they have typically lived in the larger context all their lives the notion of city or town size as a flexible factor in evaluating moves. Most who live in a smaller community have committed themselves to the notion that they will persevere in staying in a smaller setting. When we are doing outreach in these settings it is important that we convey that we are going to be here for the duration. Those in smaller communities will plainly ask what we plan to do if we grow as a congregation. The fear is that growth will compromise the quality of the church. If we do grow as a church it is important that we convey that are going to continue to hold strongly to the value of putting people first. We don’t plan to change.

“How do you relate to money?” Money is viewed a bit differently in smaller contexts. Servant evangelism is all about doing things for free. This important concept will have even more impact in smaller towns than in bigger cities. People are generally impressed with the notion of serving for free. When we serve for free in small towns we have the opportunity to literally amaze people.

When doing servant evangelism we sometimes are approached by people who attempt to pay us for our gift or services. We generally make it a point that we never accept these attempts at giving back to us. We are going to be approached more often in smaller towns by people who wish to give to us when we serve. I recommend you have a standard response to those who are flabbergasted at our project. It is good to spin people a bit with our projects. It isn’t good to leave them overly frustrated. One possible response to those who are blown away is to recommend they give to one of the children’s sponsorship programs that are typically seen on TV on Sunday evenings.

“Are there projects that work especially well smaller settings?” Yes, there are projects that work well in a smaller context. In general, anything that can impart the value of the individual will help get you better mileage. Doing give away projects is a hit no matter where you are located, but this approach seems to work better in larger cities. In a smaller context it is important that we convey to people that we are in the business of serving. Projects that allow us to connect with the value of the individual will make a bigger impression.

Some projects that connect well include:

* free carwashes (I would stay away from the dollar carwash in a small town setting – that is a bit over the top and might come across with too much pizzazz),windshield washingis an amazing project that can touch a lot of people in a relatively short time

* restroom cleaning teams(stick to gas stations, restaurants and fast food joints and other public venues)

* feeding parking meters(make sure you are able to actually feed parking meters – you may need to attach a quarter to your outreach card and place that next to the drivers handle)

* shoveling snow

* giving away deicer to residents(provide a one gallon plastic milk container that is cut away – then return to fill the salt or deicer every couple of weeks)

* window washing at homes and businesses.

The best is yet to come! God is on the move in small settings. If you live in a rural setting you might find that you have special blessings resting upon your outreach efforts. There are unique challenges that accompany a focused outreach in a smaller context. It is not impossible to be effective in this setting. My advice to you is to take heart. It is encouraging to learn the ropes and then to reach out with effectiveness. In some ways it is easier to reach out to a smaller town. Once you have paid your dues, so to speak, you will find it is in fact easier to reach out in this context versus a larger city. You will find it is possible to create an atmosphere that will grow to envelop your entire town. In a smaller setting it is possible to set attainable outreach goals that will see you touch every person in town more than once. Ultimately the name of the game in outreach is your ability to connect with many in a repeated fashion.

Creating God Space – An Interview with Doug Pollock by Steve Sjogren

Suffering from “evangiphobia?” Been turned off by evangelistic methods in the past? Trying to figure out how to start spiritual conversations with your friends, co-workers, and family members without turning them off? … then maybe it’s time to learn how to create some “God Space”! Doug Pollock, author of “God Space”, and co-author of the award winning book, “Irresistible Evangelism” will be serving as our guide in this interview to help us cross the us / them divide.

Doug PollockAbout Doug Pollock

Doug’s passion for spiritual conversations has taken him to 36 different countries, six of our seven continents, and throughout most of the United States. Doug is committed to helping Christ followers increase the quality and quantity of their spiritual conversations in natural, doable, and practical ways. He is convinced that the church must leave the building on Sunday equipped to engage the culture with conversations that create plausibility for the Christian faith in the Monday through Saturday world. You can find out more information about Doug at this website:http://www.godsgps.com/godsgps-my-information/

A New Look At The Harvest

What's Gone Wrong With The HarvestIn 1975 James F. Engel wrote a book called:

What’s Gone Wrong With the Harvest?

It was meant to get the attention of the church and nudge them into a new way of thinking. The main thrust of his writing was to convince us that evangelism should not be thought of as simply sharing the gospel. It is not effective to simply make the same broad-based message and spread it repeatedly.  No matter how innovative that approach might be, it simply will not work the same way every time.  Evangelism should be constantly evolving.  What is the definition of insanity?  Oh yeah, it is doing the same thing, the same way, and expecting a different result.

Engel introduced us to a type of classification scale to keep in mind as we observe the people we encounter.  This scale is not intended to stereotype folks as much as it is to simply remind us not everyone is at the same stage of readiness to receive the gospel message:

Engel Scale Of Evangelistic Readiness

For the person who already believes there is a God and is aware of their separation from God, the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Christ is refreshing.  However, for the person who doubts the existence of God or for the folks that have such little awareness of God that those three letters are really just an adjective you throw before a more profane word (yes they are out there–I have met them) the presentation of the gospel in merely a verbal form will fall on deaf ears, or even worse, become an obstacle to receiving his love.

If we picture people on a continuum from –10 which represents atheism, to –6 which might represent an open minded agnostic, to –1 which represents a seeker and on to +1, a new believer, and +5 as a person well on their way to spiritual maturity, then effective evangelistic activities (for –10 to –1) and effective discipleship activities (for +1 to +10) will depend on where the person is along the continuum. To effectively reach out to people, we must adapt our approach to where they are in their readiness.

In other words they might only be ready for a free Coke and a smile.

Remember it can take 12 to 20 nudges before folks make their way on the road to the kingdom.  Just like people are different, so are the paths they are on.  The nudges have to be adapted to the people.  It is quite an irony that some of the first disciples were fishermen.  There is a segment of society that understands adaptation.  Ever been to a bait and tackle shop.  Even a road side stand has more than one type of bait, hook, net, etc.   If you want to see a real eye popping array, visit a store on Port Aransas, Walkers Cay or in Islamoroda.

People are as diverse as fish.  God designed the kingdom that way.  Rather than constantly train how to deliver the gospel, we need to train folks to be more in tune with the people they are connecting with.  We need to train people how to observe and listen–not talk.  Talk is cheap.  That is why GO AND DO churches tend to thrive more than COME AND SEE churches.

Why is this?

The COME AND SEE CHURCH is entirely too committed to the investment in the place they want you to come and see. They have to be.  They operated under the premise of “if we build it they will come,” and brick, mortar, glass and steel is not cheap.  It is difficult to adapt once you lay down pegs.  You can talk all you want about moving the tent pegs a bit further out, but the reality is the tent fabric will only stretch so far–move the pegs out too far and all you do is rip the tent.  Having a good base camp is not bad, as long as you also invest in the gear you need  beyond the tent for a variety of purposes.  There is nothing wrong with having a great tent–just don’t expect it to also work well for cooking and starting campfires.

Meanwhile the “go and do” church is designed to adapt.   You “can’t go and do” immersed fully in the community without adapting, even if the adaptation was not intended.  You become relevant in a given situation because you have to just to survive.

habanero peppersWhen Jesus walked the earth, the region he was in was an agrarian based society.  The gospels are filled to the brim with metaphors and similes that folks with dirt under their nails, from working the land, understood.  I think there are a few layers of revelation that are lost on those of us that only harvest processed food.  That is why I always have a garden.  You learn a great deal when you get dirt under your nails on a regular basis.  I had a bumper crop of tomatoes, jalapenos, and habaneros, so if you are in the Cincinnati area, stop by and try my homemade salsa!  We can also have a chat about the harvest and adaptations you might need to make on your back forty.

Take a gander at the cover of the issue this month.  This is not the “Harvest” Jesus was speaking of.  We can’t make the “crops” we are called to tend as Christ followers into nifty little pegs that fit the same slots.  We are designed with unique talents and communication skills because we are going to encounter people that are very different.  There is no cookie cutter approach to evangelism that will work any longer.

There is nothing wrong with the harvest.  It is the harvester that needs to be fixed.

Planning Holiday Outreaches

There are several times during the calendar year when Jesus followers have a unique opportunity to connect the dots between God’s heart and the hearts of the multitudes of hurting people in our community. The Christmas season is perhaps the greatest of those times. In a way, we almost have an unfair advantage, because even skeptics are overwhelmed by all of the holiday endorphins and excitement.  We can clearly target what people are hungry for, if we slow down just long enough to listen to what is on their hearts. We are here at Christmas to work in tandem with God’s Spirit as the time of the season allows us to get in touch with people in unique ways. The opportunities that lie before us are immense if we are willing to be focused.

Wrapping Presents
This is one of the most powerful ways you can serve a person during this time of the year. It is powerful because you are able to engage in a genuine conversation with them as you wrap their gift. More times than not, they will ask you why you are doing this for them.  That curiosity will provide a natural opportunity for evangelism.  With that said, it is easy to get caught up in the physical action of present wrapping.  We need to take care not to forget the spiritual aspect of serving them.  It is always best to slow things down a bit.  Take ample advantage of the opportunity to share God’s love.

Wrapping Presents – Large Scale Project
There are several pointers to keep in mind if you are doing this as a larger scale event. You will need to begin recruiting a fairly large volunteer force—don’t procrastinate—start vision-casting now! The key to this outreach will be the personnel you have gathered together. They must be enthused and on the same page.  You are looking for the people that are excitement catalysts in your church.  These folks thrive on the energy and joy of the season.  Start gathering materials now! Don’t put this off.  Order plenty of what you will need. Keep in mind you don’t want to frustrate your volunteer force. The name of the game here is to have “More than plenty” so people will not have to twiddle their thumbs waiting on restocking when they could be serving the public and having divine conversations.  Start praying now!  We will be connecting with people who are not yet connected with us nor are they connected with the God of heaven and earth. They are in immense spiritual need, no matter what walk of life they come from. We are his representatives. We are not only wrapping presents – we are spiritual ambassadors. We need to blend the spiritual act of praying with the physical act of serving. If we get out of sync with our serving we cease to be effective in our activity. We are merely chasing our tails.

Strategy
Our role is to serve them all and let God sort them out.  In the past people have suggested that we should only seek to serve the marginalized, but I would argue that their definition of poverty, may be too narrow.  The beauty of wrapping gifts a shopping mall or department store is that you will encounter people with diverse socio-economic status, but they all have spiritual and emotional needs.  That is what we are really seeking to touch.  Do not get bogged down by skill.  Even if you are all thumbs, chances are you are still doing the person a tremendous service.  In fact I have had people take over the wrapping from me as I simply hand them the supplies and hold down flaps and strings while they do elaborate wrapping.  What this is really about is the conversation you share while the gift is being wrapped.  You don’t have to be a highly skilled craft person to do this activity.  We can all engage in the simple sharing line of “We are here to wrap your present as a part of XYZ Community Church to show you some love this Christmas. Make sure you remind folks: “We are not a part of the mall / store personnel – we pay for this ourselves in order to show God’s love in a practical way to the community. Our intent is to give God’s love, not just talk about it.” Some simple chatter will do the trick until the other person clicks in with some acknowledgement of what you are saying. They will either engage with you or they will change the subject. Many will want to chat a bit. Keep in mind you will be planting a seed of generosity in the hearts of the majority of people we come in contact with. This will be one of many seeds that person will need to come in contact along their trek prior to their conversion to Jesus. We all have a unique path into a love relationship with Jesus. Very rarely was it a sudden conversion.  Our part as his followers is to tell our story along the way between now and then to as many as possible. In wrapping presents we get plenty of chances to share our story and his story at the same time.

It should be noted that if you don’t have the resources or volunteers to do this at a mall or large department store, a smaller discount store with a limited schedule could be a perfect starting location for your group.  You can always work towards the goal of broadening this event in future years.  People will join up in your outreaches for many reasons, but they will stay for one main reason – because they enjoyed working with the people. You need to work with the shift leaders present to make sure you are not frustrating the people present in any way if that is at all possible. I recommend the primary leaders of this be connected with, be brought coffee while the shifts are going on, be asked in a jovial way, “Are we having fun yet?” – engaging ways of connecting the dots with the team by various levels of interactive approaches to show care to all involved.

Liquor Store Outreach?
As Jesus often demonstrated, we need to hang out with the sinners.  The name of the game is, “We are here to connect with people who don’t go to church.” This is always the objective to keep in front of you. The object is not to serve churchy people. For the most part those folks already understand the notion of God’s love. I ran into a group who had latched onto the giftwrapping concept last season, but they got the application pretty much backwards. They set up shop in front of a Christian book store. I suggested they move across the parking lot to a liquor store. They laughed heartily at the suggestion. I didn’t laugh. I wasn’t kidding. Not in the least. Another pastor friend was present when this conversation took place. He chimed in. “Yes, that’s a very good idea. If you are after the head tilt with this project you really need to switch locations. I did an outreach like this a few years ago when I was working for a Church in California and we set up the outreach in front of a liquor store. One guy came in planning to just buy some booze and other supplies for a party, including a last minute gift—the ultimate one stop shopping.  Not only was he converted by this radical love he certainly wasn’t shopping for, this guy became a member of the church and over time became one of its most influential leaders!”

Keep in mind not everyone that shops at a liquor store has drinking problem—we are wise to not generalize. We are also wise to go to places that have historically been cast off by the church culture in general. Once again:  “serve them all, let God sort them out!” A liquor store may be prime real estate for holding a small, outdoor gift-wrapping outreach. Make sure you clearly explain your intent and the point of the outreach with the owner / manager of the store prior to doing the outreach. This conversation is key to the success of the outreach making it or not.

The Taste of Christmas
Here is a quick and easy outreach you can put together as either a business blast kindness event, or a take-home kit for you to give to church members as the exit from weekend services.  The materials are easy to gather:  1) A bulk supply of Ziploc snack size baggies 2) Well crafted connect cards with a holiday design 3) High quality Christmas candy.

Candy Canes are always welcomed it seems. If you really want to make a dent inpeople’s lives, purchase different colored candy canes other than the standard red and white colors.  Apparently there are now even exotic fruit flavors available in neon colors, but with the traditional shape. Make sure you have some chocolate.  This is crucial.  Hershey’s makes a seasonal version of Kisses that are decorated in green foil or red foil.  There is actually a large variety of seasonal candy that you will find on display starting in early November.  You are going for a mix that is attractive in appearance and flavor.  The connect card is the anchor.  In fact we have a few new fantastic designs available now at Kindness Resources LLC.  The name of the game is to give away as many of these as possible with a small connect card inserted into the Ziplock bag.  One candy cane, a few pieces of candy is all you need for each bag to make a small effective touch. If you purchase in bulk you can keep your cost efficiency to between $0.07 to $0.12 per touch!

Black Friday Outreach
Some daring people / churches have the courage to take on enormous crowds that gather for shopping specials the day after Thanksgiving.  This outreach needs to be done in connection with the store that is willing to allow you to do something spectacular directly in front of their location. I have neverheard of a store that wasn’t anything less than tickled at the offer of having a Black Friday outreach done in front of their location. I have on occasion heard of stores where they pay for part or all of the outreach materials so long as the people from the local church manned the labor aspect of the outreach.  This is actually easy to do.  Think of any nice touch to get the attention of a frenzied shopper:

  • Free Coffee/Hot Chocolate (check out the cool back pack dispenser)
  • Free Battery Packs
  • Free Ribbon
  • Free Scotch Tape
  • Free Wrapping Paper Kits
  • Free “Pop Up” Bows
  • Shopping Cart Valet Service
  • Umbrella Outreach
  • Windshield Cleaning Patrol

Final Thoughts
This season, make sure that you remember that people are hungry for relationship. The holidays remind us we are more ill-equipped for relationships than at any other times of the year. We get around those who are perhaps challenging to us, yet they are the ones we love. We are hungry to see progress made in relationships, but we don’t know how to make progress without being driven crazy at the same time. This is a time of year when people are in some ways the most open to a “Big God” encounter. There is a sort of collective verbal outcry that goes very much like this:

Dear God, if you are real and if you answer prayers, please hear mine.  I ask that you would change my family and make us more loving toward one another. Amen.”

It is also important to remember that people are in a hurry.  Nearly everyone is on a short emotional fuse. Thus, we must be mindful of the tendency on the parts of everyone to be a bit odd about things in general. If it is ever appropriate to proceed with caution now is the time of year for those words to be taken to heart.

We should also make sure that we invest time and energy on retail employees.  Given the current economy, this holiday season is predicted to see a record number of new seasonal part-time employees hit the work force.  For many this grim reality of a second or third job will be a shock to their system.  They will be in as much need for kindness as they will the extra funds they hope to gain by adding ten to twenty hours onto their already exhausting hours of employment just to make ends meet or to gather extra holiday cash.  Our hope is to scatter our seeds at the Christmas season in order to see a return to our love language throughout the rest of the year. During the final part of the calendar year we may end up seeing a return that is greater than all the other weeks and months we go out and serve folks.  In fact, I think it will pale by comparison. Let’s make the most of what we have before us. Let’s connect the dots and see what God is up to right around us. That will happen as we serve with all our hearts and lay caution aside.