Why outreach doesn’t work
Have you ever spent so much time looking at something that, even though it was right in front you, you couldn’t see it? Or like last night I was watching Jeopardy! (I love Jeopardy!, but it’s not as much fun if there isn’t someone else watching who can hear you shout all the right answers) and a question was asked and I thought of the correct answer but I doubted I had it right because it was too obvious. The verse I am looking at today is kind of like that. We treat it like a gut check, like: “are you doing hard things for God?” but it’s really not like that at all…in fact it’s just the opposite. From the time I wrote my post called Pearls Before Swine, (which if you haven’t read you really should go back and read not only is it delightful and entertaining, it also is a primer for this post) I’ve really been thinking a lot about the sheep and goats verse I quoted, so this post is really a continuation of that post. Our pastor used the sheep and goats verse a few Sundays ago in a sermon and, alas he used it incorrectly, I have considered talking to him about it and I believe I will, but I haven’t yet. You see, we need to carefully look at this verse, because it really is a more effective model for outreach than most churches across the country follow. Let’s look at the verses…
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right,
Alright let’s stop there: These verses are, of course, talking about Christ’s second coming, no matter what your eschatology is, that’s when the events in these verses take place. Now read the verses again, are the sheep and goats separated by what they are or what they do? Let me answer that, they are separated by what they are (sheep or goat) not what they do. Keep that in mind for later…
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
Okay stopping again…notice the sheep are completely unaware of when they did the things Jesus is mentioning here. They ask: “When did we…yada, yada, yada?” The sheep are unaware because a) they didn’t see Jesus when they did these things they just saw a brother in need and b) sheep, by nature, do sheep-y things.
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Time out Skippy…the two word phrase most often overlooked in these verses is this: my brothers.
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Most pastors in the churches in America today incorrectly use these verses as a way to brow beat the congregation to make sure they are doing good works. In fact even a very popular pastor who shall remain nameless here (but not Joel Osteen) “You are only as deep as the last person you served.” But this sentiment is entirely 180° backwards from what these verses and others indicate. While these verses do not at all negate Christian service and acts of kindness…my question is with whom does our Christian service begin? It begins with other Christians…that two word phrase “my brothers” indicates that the people we are to primarily concern ourselves with serving are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Are there not brothers and sisters in our own churches that have needs? Physical needs? Spiritual needs? It is here that we start “outreach” This is what the early church did, it met the needs of the people within the congregation first. From there these simple acts for our brothers extend out like ripples on a pond.
Suppose Brother Steve (I realize saying “Brother Steve” makes me sound very Southern Baptist-y, just bear with me) has a need, say he needs his furnace repaired…a simple thing. And he knows Brother Mark works as a HVAC man. Brother Steve contacts Brother Mark about his need and Brother Mark comes over after work and fixes Brother Steve’s furnace for free because he is a Brother in Christ and doesn’t feel right charging him.
Then suppose Brother Steve has an unbelieving friend at work that has a need and Brother Steve helps fill that need and maybe even gets some fellow Brothers and Sisters from church to help out as well. This out pouring of kindness will be met with gratitude by the unbelieving friend making the unbeliever think a little harder about all that crazy Jesus stuff that brother Steve goes on about sometimes.
I know the scenario is rather simplistic…but my point is that Brother Mark didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to help Brother Steve…he used his abilities and didn’t think anything more of it. But in the scenario Brother Steve was cold and Brother Mark provided him warmth. Brother Steve was touched but the outpouring of generosity and saw another person’s need, even though the person wasn’t a Brother, and felt compelled to fill it…simply because he could. The man, simply because he had received generosity from a friend at work when no one else would show him any, realizes that maybe there is something to Christianity than an empty religion…and a seed has been planted. Could Brother Steve have simply done a good deed for someone regardless? Perhaps…but maybe because he was cranky from not sleeping well the night before because he was cold he didn’t notice his friends need at work.
Okay…maybe imaginary scenarios aren’t your thing…sure you can make-up any scenario, I mean what if the Titanic didn’t sink but was abducted by aliens…then I have a question for you…
Whose feet did Jesus wash? Was it some random stranger, a beggar on the side of the road, or His own disciples? It was His own disciples…the same way our “outreach” begins with our own fellow church members. This Christian Brother first approach would be considered absurd in some, if not most, evangelical circles. After all wouldn’t we just be telling the world it can go to hell? Shouldn’t we be reaching out to those outside the church? Well, ‘yes’ and ‘no’…’Yes’ we should be reaching out to those outside the church and ‘no’ we are not telling the world it can go to hell, but does it really matter what your “telling the world”? You can tell the world “I believe in the flying monkey fish” and they’d be like “that’s cool” and go on about their day. “The world” isn’t really going to get it no matter what WE say. I know that sounds harsh but as I said in my last blog entry, The Gospel=Crazy Talk, Christianity is really hard to really believe without God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. When our outreach begins with those in the church we are fulfilling the great commission to go make disciples. When our outreach begins with those in the church…
…we are following Jesus example of service.
…we are not throwing our pearls before swine.
…we are strengthening and building up the body of Christ.
…we are not leaving anyone in the church behind…not those who want to go deeper into God’s Word, not those who are new to Christianity, not the young, not the old. The phrase “we do church for the un-churched” will never be uttered.
…we are taking care of the sheep.
…we are feeding the poor, even if it’s just the poor in spirit.
In the end when Christ returns, he’s not coming back for the world…he’s coming back for His bride…the church. All the spiritual gifts we are given are for the building up and edification of the church, and that is what we, as Christians, are to concern ourselves with doing.
It doesn’t take much to serve a random stranger or give money to charity…even the unredeemed do this on a regular basis…grant it, they do much patting of themselves on the back afterward…but they still do it. These are the goats these verses are referring to. The ones who announce that they are helping someone…the ones that announce that they are doing a good deed…they’re goats. They write books bragging on their good deeds and chide others who aren’t as good as they are. They have received their reward.
It takes lots of humility and brotherly love to serve someone you see on a weekly or even daily basis. What’s more, it takes a lot more humility to admit that you need help with something, and that maybe the hardest obstacle to overcome…our pride. At church we have a bad tendency to put on the “happy face” and not be real with each other. I’ve done it…more than I care to admit. If we can’t be real with our brothers and sisters in Christ, than who can we be real with? Really, if you’re engaging in this behavior you’re just deceiving yourself…which is the worst kind of deception.
The sheep and the goats…one goes into eternal security and one goes to eternal punishment. Who do we think of first when it comes to “outreach”? Our brothers and sisters at church or the random stranger…naturally we think of the random stranger, and that is why our outreach doesn’t work. What do you think? I’d love to har your thoughts on this in the comments section below.