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The first section of Organic Outreach for Churches by Kevin Harney covered motivation: love for God, the world and the congregation. He calls this the heart of the congregation. In the second section he addresses the mind of the congregation. The focus is on the administrative structure expressed by the heart that seeks to reach out with God’s love to the world around it through the congregation. Put another way, the first task of leadership is to cultivate love for God, the lost people around us, and our congregation. Until this is done, the administrative structure should not be changed. To borrow terminology from another book on ministry, there needs to be a vine before you put up the trellis.

“When our hearts are filled with love for God, for our community, and for the church, we are ready to strategize about outreach.”

This is one of the positives of his approach. He is talking about outreach as a (church) community project rather than focusing on preparing individuals to share their faith.

The first step in this process is the mind-shifts Harney believes need to take place so we can be productive. Here they are:

  • From random to strategic outreach
  • From famine to funding (making money available for LOCAL outreach)
  • From believing to belonging (as the first step in the process)
  • From us to them (regarding focus)
  • From programs to praying
  • From mush to clarity (regarding your beliefs)
  • From fatalism to faith

These are important shifts, though I would be hesitant to fully embrace the 4th one (us => them) for reasons I will develop below.

I will throw out a reminder. This all takes time. This morning I read about the building of the temple by Solomon. It took 7 and a half years. Just as the temple wasn’t built in a day, neither will a congregation’s outreach ministry. People are often harder to mold than stones. This is about cultural change, and that takes time, and undetermineable period of time.

He then develops the idea of from famine to funding, because you’ve gone from random to strategic outreach. Many churches provide money for missions, elsewhere. By someone else. Funding missionaries is a great thing. The point is not to eliminate funding to foreign (and even local) missionaries and ministries. The point is to add funds for your congregation to reach the people around you.

This also means that everyone is getting involved instead of paying surrogates to do the work for you. Not everyone will have the same role; the different gifts of God’s people will be engaged. This is one of the mind shifts he neglected: from them to us. No longer should outreach be the work of a chosen few who work on behalf of the rest of us (surrogates). An outreach committee would lead the strategies that involve everyone in various ways (even if all you can do is pray because you’re home-bound).

One common problem Harney experiences is that ministry leaders see outreach as an optional thing that competes with their ministry instead of being something that their ministry also participates in. As a result, they can ignore events, schedule competing events etc. The goal is for each ministry to see their place in outreach. To see it as part of their mission. The Outreach Team is then viewed as influencers. He finds it most helpful if all the ministry leaders comprise the Outreach Influence Team.

Harney then moves into the 6 Levels of Influence. It all starts with God. As a loving, eternal community (Trinity) God is a missionary God who has been sharing His love with people since the beginning of time. Between God and the world, Harney lists the Outreach Influence Team Leader, the Outreach Influence Team, ministry workers, and ministry participants.

To put it simply, the team leader encourages the team to maintain focus and develop the ways their ministry participates in outreach. The team provides training for workers in outreach, which helps instill the vision for outreach to participants so they begin to engage in praying for others, inviting people to events or ministry functions etc.

Then he moves into raising the evangelistic temperature utilizing the one degree rule. This is about accountability. And while it can be helpful, knowing the perversity that remains even in Christians, it can easily lapse into legalism and self-righteousness (self-condemnation if you aren’t doing enough). It is here that he starts to sound more seeker-driven than seeker-sensitive. It was here that I began to grow frustrated.

Why was I frustrated? The easy answer would be my flesh is resisting the call of God to engage in this process. I don’t think that is is (though he did talk about lots of meetings and I’m currently have meeting fatigue).

The other answer is a glaring lack of ecclesiology in the book. It is assumed, and you know what happens if you assume. Part of ecclesiology is the mission of the church. When there is no clearly developed mission of the church, an author’s emphasis becomes the mission of the church. There are subtle statements in this section that indicate that he thinks outreach trumps the rest, shapes the rest. Like most books on a particular goal of the Church, it becomes out of balance and begins to veer down dangerous roads.

Let me explain. I take a tri-perspectival view of worship (and most things, to be honest). I express this as worship is intended to exalt God, edify the Church and evangelize the world (in terms of unbelievers present). Worship cannot focus simply on evangelism as in the seeker-driven model. I think we should be sensitive to “seekers” (I don’t really like that word). By that I mean we explain things. We periodically explain some of what we do in worship. In preaching we explain “big words” and call people to faith for both conversion (justification) and sanctification.

Our mission, as expressed in the Great Commission, is not to simply make converts but disciples. We are to present people to Christ in maturity. Yes, you have to start with conversion but that is not the end all and be all of church life. Outreach is a part of our mission, not the mission.

If we are asking about outreach temperature, we should start asking about your marriage (if you are married), parenting, sex life, work life etc. because all of these are about being faithful to Christ in our context. Suddenly we have a long list, and even more opportunities to become self-righteous Pharisees boasting of our outreach righteousness, or parenting righteousness.

Taking part of the mission as the mission is just plain dangerous. No one comes out and says that, but it is expressed in terms of the “most important” part of our mission, or main emphasis requiring “inordinate amounts of time”.

So, while I agree that outreach should permeate all of our programs so it is an organic thing for the congregation, I don’t agree that it supplants or overwhelms all of the other ministries of the church. Our discipleship ministries should be welcoming to outsiders (and people should invite others as well as pray for the lost), should connect everything to the gospel (including calling people to faith as well as expressing that faith) as well as prepare people to share their faith (preferably in a tri-perspectival way, which is a separate blog post). Our worship should not be reduced to altar calls, “love songs” to Jesus with a great beat etc. I’m still a “Word & Sacrament” guy. Evangelism as well as exaltation and edification take place as we sing the Word, pray the Word, listen to the Word (preaching) and see the Word (sacraments). God works in that to bring people to faith as well as build people in their faith. We explain things, we don’t eliminate them precisely because worship is also for God and His people, not just the people who don’t believe yet.

Precisely because there is no explicit eccesiology, Harney is beginning to slip down this road though he may not realize it. There are some things that slow it: being clear about what you believe. He hasn’t gutted the faith like some do. But I find him beginning to move out of balance in this second section. In the third section, we’ll see where his trajectory leads us.

 

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The subtitle gets to the point: Infusing Evangelistic Passion in Your Local Congregation. Kevin Harney has a passion for congregations that share the gospel organically. Hence the title, Organic Outreach for Churches.

This is not a book about personal evangelism, though we should personally evangelize. He wants to help congregations to have a passion for the gospel. Congregations. The Church. Evangelistic communities. Evangelism is a group project. Evangelism is a community commitment.

“Organic outreach is what happens when evangelistic vision and action become the domain of every ministry in a church and the commitment of every member of a congregation.”

By organic he means that it is “a natural and integrated part of the whole life of the church, not a fabricated add-on.” In his book he wants to provide ways for leaders to instill this integrated vision for evangelism into their congregations.

It starts with the heart. Both the process and the book. He begins with the heart of your congregation: love for God, the world and the church.

“If a congregation is gripped by God’s love and lavishes it freely on each other and their community, God will draw people to this church.”

He begins with love for God. We, of course, have been loved by God and then called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Love for God is the fountain of evangelism. If we don’t love God, we won’t recommend Him to others.

In many ways I heard echos of Michael Reeves’ work. God’s motive in creation and redemption was love. Having been loved, we are restored in the image of the God who is love and begin to love. Many churches have forgotten or forsaken their first love. Pleas to reach out will fall on deaf ears because there is no love. The root or fountain must be addressed. Pastors need to communicate God’s redemptive love so we love the God who redeemed us.

Some earnest churches may need to slow down and channel their energy. They launch an endless series of outreach efforts and follow all the latest fads. But we are concerned with the long haul, not a series of wind sprints. The goal is a congregation that consistently reaches out, charting a steady course that fits who God made them to be.

“As we are grounded in God’s love for us and as we learn to walk in this love, we will continue to grow in our love for people and for God.”

We are to love the world. This does not mean the godless world system that is our enemy (the world, the flesh & the devil). Rather this is the lost people in need of Christ to whom the love of God is to be revealed. Scripture recognizes this distinction. If we don’t love them, we won’t reach out to them. We won’t have sufficient concern or compassion to communicate and demonstrate that love.

“A congregation that is wholeheartedly devoted to following the teachings of Scripture will inevitably be propelled beyond what they want in order to become what God is calling them to be.”

I tend to think of love as a self-sacrificing commitment to another person’s well-being. I don’t love my wife much if I’m not willing to sacrifice much for her. The same goes for my kids. If my life pre- and post-children is unchanged then I’m not engaged with them, sacrificing for them and just plain loving them. To love the world means that a congregation sacrifices so that others hear the gospel.

“When a congregation is in love with itself and is committed to self-preservation, it’s unlikely it will count the cost and take steps to reach out. … Love, inspired by the Spirit of God, propels us out of our comfort zones and into the world.”

We tend to think about money first and foremost. A missions budget is a sacrifice. That is money that could be spent on “us”. But that is not really what Harney is getting at. Harvey is getting at changing, sacrificing, so that outreach is integral to all a congregation does. It is a willingness to remove unnecessary obstacles. It is a willingness to pay the price that keeps many congregations from consistent evangelistic vision and action.

Often churches will say they want to reach out. They will say this to a pastoral candidate. As their new pastor seeks to implement evangelistic vision and action the resistance begins. It gets back to a lack of love, and therefore unwillingness to sacrifice. We see Jesus, out of love, sacrificing in His Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus, our Savior, is also our Example (not one or the other).

Harney makes a necessary distinction in his exercises at the end of the chapter. We don’t sacrifice the gospel. We maintain clarity on important theological issues. We are to affirm and uphold biblical absolutes or principles. What is sacrifices is “tradition” or preference. We are to sing songs of worship that exalt God, humble sinners and promote holiness. We may sacrifice our personal preference when it comes to musical style. We affirm the biblical gospel, but we may sacrifice our preference for “gospel presentations”. We may rethink the traditions of our congregations that are rooted in how we like to do it rather than how God tells us to do it. We need to be distinctively Christian, and we need to realize church life isn’t all about us.

“The truth is that most churches have all sorts of opportunities for believers to grow, fellowship, and be encouraged in their faith. The problem is that we don’t really do all that much for those who are not followers of Jesus. … When this love is alive and growing in our hearts, we willingly- and naturally- sacrifice for the sake of those who are not yet followers of the Savior.”

Harney notes that many churches often forget they are to love the church as an essential aspect of organic outreach. He says “What we often fail to recognize is that a joy-filled love for the church is also a key to outreach.” We are not only to love Christ, but also His Bride. We invite people to Christ, and also His Body. If we are focused on the faults of His Bride our love for Her will wane and we won’t think inviting others into Her life is a good thing. If you want to grow in your desire to reach out, you must also grow in your love for the church- especially your particular congregation.

If you are embarrassed by your dysfunctional family, you won’t invite your new significant other to meet them. The solution is not to find a new family. The solution is to love your family despite their many, obvious flaws and work slowly to resolve the dysfunction (it wasn’t created in a day and won’t be resolved in a day either). So, don’t take this as “find a church you can love” but love the one you’re in. Return to the Scriptures to see how Jesus sees His Bride and Body. He didn’t love Her because She was perfect and had it all together. He sacrificed Himself to make Her holy and blameless. See His profound love for the Church and ask Him to give you a similar love for His not yet holy and blameless people.

If our congregations don’t have an evangelistic vision and action that permeates the whole congregation, engaging every member, we probably have love trouble. Our love for Christ, the world and/or the church is the problem. This is what must be addressed. Our love for each grows only as we see the manner in which God loved the world, sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for sinners. His love for us will grow into love for Him, His people and His world. This is the motive for God-honoring outreach.

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