Beyond external-focus and servant evangelism

I am proposing a new model for small church ministry.  It is not a model that you have read about or seen advertised.  No seminars or conferences about this model exist. There is no notebook, website, CD, or video link.  Yet, it is so obvious that we have missed it for at least the past 1900 years.  I learned this new model, not from the church, but from a civic group.

My Community Arts Group Experience

The arts stuff we do at our church has a connection to a state university here in Virginia.  As a result of my support for local arts projects, I was invited to join a group called Leadership Through the Arts.  Recently, this group, made up of community arts enthusiasts and providers, met to develop grant applications for future funding.  Here’s the amazing part — with all their resources, the university professors involved asked us what we wanted.  They convened a meeting to listen to us, pull together our ideas, and package them using the clout of the university name to get government grant attention that individually we would not get.  That experience brought together some random thoughts I had about ministry.

A New Model for Small-Church Ministry

A lot has been written about servant evangelism, externally-focused churches, and getting outside the four walls of the church to do something in and for the community.  Most of this stuff centers on talking about our need to focus outwardly, what we can do, and how we can do it.  But there is a problem with all of that.  We’re still starting from inside the church.

Jesus, on the other hand, did not try to organize the local synagogue (his equivalent of our church) to do good works.  He got out among real, live people and talked to them.  His presence asked, “What do you need?”  When they said, “We need healing” — he healed them.  When they said, “We’re hungry” — he fed them.  When they said, “My daughter died” — he raised her.  Jesus got out among real people with real problems, found out what they needed and did it.

Translate that into 2007 — our ministry should begin in conversation with people in our communities who don’t go to our churches.  Until we sit and drink coffee with them, and listen to their dreams, concerns, and needs, we will continue to patronize the world with programs we think are good, but that don’t meet the real needs in our community.

The way we got involved in the arts here in Chatham was to listen to other people — people who were not members of our church.  We listened to their dreams and came alongside them to partner with them in making those dreams for the community come true.

New Attitudes for the New Model

This new model for ministry does not require money or staff.  The smallest church can do it.  But it does require a new attitude toward people and ministry, as follows:

  • Ministry changes from something we do for the community to something we do with the community.
  • People are viewed as God’s creation now, whether they are in our churches or not.
  • Ministry becomes holistic, dealing with the issues of real life that concern real people, not driven only by our perspectives.

If we adopted this new model and insisted that not only would our church be involved, but that our ministries would have community partners, too, we would see a dramatic change in the way churches are viewed.  Rather than closed clubs, or secret societies, our churches would be viewed as real partners in the communities we serve.  I think it’s a model worth exploring further.  Any thoughts?

15 thoughts on “Beyond external-focus and servant evangelism”

  1. Hey, Michael, I’ve got you on my list of people to call. When do you guys want to get together in Lynchburg for lunch or coffee? And, to answer your question, I think you start talking to people that are not in your church. They could be in somebody else’s church or no church, but the important part of this is to create a conversation about what people are dreaming of in your community. Your church won’t be able to be a part of everything, but you can partner with others to do something. Of course, there is still some “church” stuff we will continue to do, but to come alongside people in your community to engage in conversation about how the church can partner to make your community better is the key. Let me know about lunch. — Chuck

  2. You’re on to something, Chuck! I remember hearing a pastor tell about working with their county planning commission with regard to their proposed new facility. When asked what they envisioned, one of the council-members blurted (before they had a chance to answer) “Not another food pantry, I hope – we have too many of those already!” So they didn’t mention the food pantry idea 😀

    In the discussion they discovered a very real need for an early-morning safe place for walkers, many of retirement age, particularly during winter months and inclement weather. The end result was an energetic, positive dialogue, the county’s endorsement of the church’s future plans, and a walking track for these folks in the community, complete wih a coffee and refreshment center for those who wished to sit and visit after their excercise, staffed by friendly, trained church volunteers.

    The church worked with the people of the community and it was a HUGE win for all concerned. And you KNOW there were some who stopped in on Sunday morning to see what they’d been walking past for a few weeks. It takes less time and effort to think up things ourselves, more time to listen objectively, but in our day and age I wonder sometimes if “Go” doesn’t include “Listen into your world”.

    Great thoughts!

  3. Hey, Phil, thanks for the example. Exactly what I’m talking about. But could it work on an on-going basis, not just a one-off for a building program? Could we really listen (I like “listen into your world”) and become friends with people like Jesus did, with no agenda? Otherwise, we are just “using” people to accomplish our own goals — like higher church attendance. What do you think? Any other examples from anybody? — Chuck

  4. I say ABsolutely!

    If we teach our people to earn the right to be heard with personal friendship evangelism we should be prepared to do likewise as an organization.

    We’ll need to be careful we don’t let the visible results eclipse the eternal results, but absoLUTely!

    I’ve never been fond of attendance goals plots and stats. I know they’re necessary, as an organization, but show me a changed life any day.
    Show me a flaming, caustic, devastating tongue calmed and tamed by the Lord’s work in a guy’s heart.
    Show me a home where peace prevails now – the same home where abuse and heartache and fear ran the day.
    Show me a mom that serves her family and her Lord in ways that delight just about everybody that looks on in wonder.
    Show me a community where the civic leaders’ first response when the church’s name comes up is “THOSE people care!”
    Something tells me when that starts to happen the budgets and attendance records will monitor what’s already happening, not point to what we wish would.


  5. Phil and Shawna, thanks for your comments. I’m not even sure of everything I’m thinking about this, but we’re on to something I believe. On my other blog,, I said — “The church is the people of God for the life of the world, not for the life of the church.” That’s part of what I’m trying to say here. So, thanks for your comments — keep ’em coming! — Chuck

  6. Chuck – I too want to express that I think you’re right on. As I read this and was thinking of how we might begin this in our community, the local libray came to mind. We are a small town of under 400, and the library is really struggling. I have no idea how the church might be able to help, if we might find anyway to help – but that’s where the dialogue comes in, right?

    Anytime we can come alongside people and try to help them achieve their goals, then the church is being the church – as long as what Phil said, we don’t loose sight of our eternal focus.

    Thanks for a great post!

  7. Steve, I like your library idea. And you are right, you find out how to begin a partnership by talking to each other. I believe that the church is the people of God for the life of the world. If that is true, and God said He loved the world, then our eternal focus begins with participating with God in saving the world — all of it. So we are salt and light in the culture, doing good, helping improve things, showing the community a better way. That is the gospel and as people see that and hear it, they are drawn to it. Which is a more sound approach than trying to put on the latest, biggest, most entertaining show to attract people. Plus, people not in your church will help you do ministry and catch the work of God in the process. Keep me posted as your story develops. I am very interested in how you incarnate this idea. And, you’ll be part of saving your entire community, not just your church. That is the gospel. Email me and let me know how this goes. — Chuck

  8. Chuck,

    I firmly agree with your concept, but I don’t think this is an unthought of idea in respects to the world. We have wonderful stories of Mother Teresa, and the priest that actually became a leper in a leper colony, and a multitude of missionaries who understand (or understood) this concept completely and emphatically.

    I think your focus should be more on what the American churches have forgotten. We’ve forgotten (or ignored) that Jesus did indeed minister this way. We’ve become so darn comfortable in our plush church buildings, and we have surrounded ourselves with so many wonderful Christian friends … that we leave little room for the mess of the world to be a part of who we are.

    As long as we keep the priority of spreading the gospel and discipling those who are saved (Matthew 28:19 – 20) number one, this idea of living is probably the best method to help us accomplish those. But, I think you will agree, it can become easy to simply DO acts to make us feel good on the inside and forget about the main thing. I think you would agree with this.

    So … I say yes to this method you are proposing. It’s something that takes us out of our comfort zones, it stretches us, it scares us, it takes time and sacrifice … sounds just like a true calling from God. 😉

    Go with God,
    Donald B

  9. Donald, you’re exactly right. We have forgotten what Jesus did and how he did it. What I am talking about is not just doing good to make us feel good. I believe that redeeming the world — all of it — is our mission. Of course, people are part of that redemptive mission also. That was the problem with the social gospel 100 years ago. I am not talking about doing good because it makes us feel good, or trying to make the world a better place from our standpoint. I am talking about saving the world — after all Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…”

    Jesus announced the presence and coming kingdom of God as the way God was saving the world. This is our mission as part of God’s mission — calling God’s creation back to him in every way possible.

    If we would stop seeing folks who are outside the church as incapable of participating in the work of God, and invite them into God’s work, that to me is disciple-making. Jesus invited the disciples to join him, then later sent them out to do the things he had done (Luke 10).

    And you’re right, it does take us out of our comfort zone, closed religious clubs, and culture. That’s why the church — the ecclesia — is “called out.” Great comments, Donald! Let me know what other thoughts you have. — Chuck

  10. Your idea adds momentum to the ideas that my congregation has been looking into recently. If you would like more input into moving out of the four walls of your church check out Thom Rainer’s book, “Breakout Churches” especially chapter 6.

  11. Chuck … especially regarding your 3rd paragraph to my response above … I say AMEN!!!

    Thanks for the input on all of this. I think you are heading in a good direction.

  12. What you are saying is so true! We as Christians must make it a point to get from behind the closed doors of our Churchs. I’am bless to be apart of something that address’ this problem and help we personally grow spiritually and become a better witness for God. I encourage every Christian to join the AreYouAChristian crusade. This is a true bless and witnessing tool for Christ. Visit, see the vision and be apart of it.

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