Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Reasons for Reaching Out

As a church, Acts 2 has been stepping up this year in the area of outreach. In addition to our mission trip this summer, we are also planning more outreaches to the community than we have in the past. But why reach out? Some might suggest that evangelism is not about social programs, and there is some truth in that. Jesus commanded us to go into all the world and preach the good news to all men. But going into the community and blessing people is a primary way we can build bridges and create space for sharing the good news of Jesus in a receptive environment. Beyond that, reaching out to the poor and hurting fulfills a different but equally important instruction that Jesus gave us. Here are four very important goals for reaching out to our communities and beyond.

1. Good Impressions. Sadly, many people in our contemporary culture have a very bad impression of Christians and the church. Christians are often viewed as close-minded, hypocritical, judgmental, and downright mean people. Perhaps that's because those sort of misguided "Christians" tend to be the most vocal about their faith. But the quiet majority of goodhearted, true Christians need to rise up and change those impressions. We need to be loving, giving, accessible people of integrity who can be trusted. We need to exude God's peace and joy. We need to be reaching out to the world both through intentional outreach programs and also through our daily living. That combined with an occasional mention that we are indeed followers of Christ and that we do attend a wonderful church will begin to change those bad impressions to good impression, and open people to the good news of Jesus and to the church.

Acts 2 members reaching out through service
2. Have Conversations. Outreach opens opportunities to get to know people. Not preach at them, but to ask them questions about themselves. To open a give and take of information that will show that you care about them as individuals. These conversations make a space for the Holy Spirit to move. If the conversation is going well, you might even bring up an issue related to faith. For example, "Do you attend a church?" or "What is your background with religion?" Maybe you're afraid that those sorts of questions might bring out anger in that person, but if they do, you will learn something very important about where the person is and how you can pray for them. You might even have an opportunity to apologize on behalf of Christians and share what true Christianity is all about. Or perhaps you're concerned that the conversation could bring up questions that you're not prepared to answer. That's a okay. Just say something like, "That's a good question. Let me think about that and we'll talk some more later." You can always take those questions to your church leaders and get their input. And guess what? You'll have a chance for another conversation.

3. Prayer Invitation. If a conversation goes well, you will also have an opportunity to ask someone to pray. Before you say good-bye, ask them if you can pray for them about anything. About half of the time, people will say yes. But don't be shy; take it a step further. If their answer is something friendly along the lines of, "Oh no. I'm fine. Thanks," ask if you can pray for them anyway. At that point the vast majority will answer yes. Prayer is another way we can show our love and concern in a tangible manner. More importantly, it opens a very immediate and powerful channel for the Holy Spirit to minister to their spirits. Because in the end, it's God's job to move in people's hearts and change them. We are merely the messengers.

Acts 2 kids having fun and reaching out
4. Jesus's Instruction. But perhaps the most vital reason to reach out to the needy and hurting is because Jesus tells us to. By reaching out to other people, we bless the God who created them in His image and loves them. We also change our own hearts, both through humbly serving, and also through getting a better perspective on our own lives. So even if we never change another person, never get anyone to accept Christ, never add one member to our church, through reaching out and blessing others, we have pleased God and fulfilled His instruction. I will leave you with this powerful message from Jesus in Matthew 25.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

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