Category: evangelism

The Ethics of Outreach

‘No Muslim Parking’ Sign Angers US MuslimsI have read lots of articles on church outreach in my thirty years of ministry. I’ve even written a few myself. However, I have never read an article on the ethics of outreach. Maybe it’s time for a look at the ethics of outreach. Here’s why.

In Hibbing, Minnesota, according to the KSMP-TV, the local Fox affiliate, a Muslim woman who had registered for a September 28 conference was asked to leave when she showed up for the meeting wearing a hijab. Previously the women’s conference advertising had stated, “All women are invited,” according to the station.

Ironically, the event organizers were People of the Book Ministries, a Christian outreach ministry to Muslims. Cynthia Khan, presenter for the conference, said that videos and material “offensive” to Muslims would be distributed. For that reason Khan asked that Rania Elsweisy, the hijab-wearing Muslim woman, be escorted from the conference.

As a result of Ms. Elsweisy’s ejection, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a discrimination lawsuit against People of the Book Ministries.

“The only reason I was kicked out of the event was because of my religion, Islam,” said Elsweisy. “It is truly hurtful to be treated like you are lesser than somebody or that you don’t qualify to be talked to and treated equally as others,” according to the station’s website.

While the public discrimination suit will be worked out in civil courts, there is something ironic about a Christian ministry ejecting a member of the very group they claim to be trying to reach.

While I do not question the intentions of People of the Book, I do take issue with the ethics, or lack of ethics, involved here. Add to this incident a Texas megachurch that offered cars, flat-screen TVs, bikes, and other prizes for attending church on Easter, and my conclusion is that Christians do have an ethical problem with some forms of outreach.

All of this brings up the question, “Is there an ethical standard for Christian outreach programs and ministries?” Let me suggest five ethical standards that Christian outreach programs should adhere to:

1. Outreach must be open and transparent to all, including those being reached. In the Minnesota example, presenters knew that their material was offensive to Muslims, and probably for self-evident reasons, did not want Muslims present. However, Christians must ask themselves if our attitudes, strategies, and materials aimed toward those we are trying to reach are hostile, demeaning, or degrading, should we use them at all. Lottie Moon, a Southern Baptist missionary to China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lobbied to have the label “heathen” dropped when referring to the Chinese people she ministered to.

2. Outreach must exhibit a genuine love and respect for individuals and their cultures. Demonizing the “other,” especially in the fraught relationships between the Muslim and Western worlds, may be an effective fundraising technique but is a poor strategy for loving neighbors who may not be like us. Jesus used the “other” — a Samaritan — as example of neighborliness in his parable we call the Good Samaritan. That’s quite a difference from presenting material that is known to be offensive to another culture.

3. Outreach must be grounded in the Deuteronomic command to “love God” and to “love your neighbor.” Jesus taught that these two commandments summarized all the Law and the Prophets. In other words, all we need to know and practice as followers of Jesus is love for God and love for others.

4. Outreach ends do not justify unscrupulous means. Evangelism methodologies continue to struggle with the idea that Christians must do “whatever it takes” to reach the world for Christ. However, the means we use to reach the world must be consistent with the message we present to the world. Christians cannot trick, deceive, misrepresent or mislead others into the Kingdom of God. Neither can we buy the attention of non-Christians through games of chance, lucky numbers, or attendance incentives. Jesus fed people, but he fed them after they listened all day, not to get them to listen.

5. Finally, although this is the first ethical principle, outreach must be modeled on the Trinitarian action of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The theology of the Triune God must inform our purpose, our practice, and our presence to those who do not know the good news of God. Trinitarian outreach is characterized by love, self-giving, incarnation, sacrifice, humility, patience, winsomeness, and hospitality.

Pastors and church leaders are assailed weekly with the news that church attendance is declining, baptisms are at all-time lows, and young adults are leaving the church in droves. That news, distressing as it may be, cannot become the pretext for desperate and unethical outreach strategies that discredit the Gospel and further damage the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Stop Doing Bad Stuff, Start Doing Good Stuff

Isaiah.the.prophet

Sometimes Scripture is complex and difficult to understand. But, sometimes it’s just simple. Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 is an example of the simple. Isaiah says to the nation of Judah, “…stop doing wrong. Learn to do right…” Pretty simple, and amazingly difficult. Here’s the audio of my sermon last Sunday from this passage. It’s titled, “Stop doing bad stuff, start doing good stuff.” Can’t get simpler than that!

 

NOC2010 is here!

Wednesday I head off to San Diego for my fourth year at the National Outreach Convention, known affectionately as NOC.  I hope you’ll be there for all of the workshops, discussion forums, worship sessions, major speakers, and more.  One of the really great things about NOC is the wealth of information, resources, and people that you encounter — all focused on outreach.

I’ll be leading a breakout workshop titled, Outreach in the Crises of Life. If you’re at NOC, drop in on Friday afternoon at 2:30 PM for 90-minutes of sharing about reaching out to those who are experiencing the most difficult situations in life.  On Friday morning at 7:15 AM (bring coffee!) I am facilitating the Small Church Ideas Exchange.

Of course, I’ll see my friends at Outreach magazine, which I hope you subscribe to.  Outreach publishes an annual small church issue, plus I write the “Small Church, Big Idea” column in each regular issue.  Lots of small church stuff including good ideas that real people have used in real churches.  I’ll be live blogging, and Facebooking some NOC events, so stay tuned!

Living Into vs. Talking About

Seth Godin asks How long before you run out of talking points? His point is that those who “live into” rather than just “talk about” (my words, not Godin’s) what they espouse are the real deal.  Then he says,

Then compare these passionate leaders to a pundit, spin doctor or troll (for just about any cause du jour) being interviewed on TV. After three sentences, they run out of assertions, facts or interesting things to say.

There’s a lot to be said for being deep, scientific and informed.

There are lots of religious talking points, especially among pastors.  Several years ago I was attempting to have a conversation about the nuances of religious faith, but one of the three in our little conversation triangle kept offering up his “talking points” in response to every idea presented.  What I wanted was brain-storming and the exploration of our theological imaginations, but what he wanted to do was keep us all on the “orthodox” path by inserting his talking points.

Talking points are good, but as Godin says, if that’s all there is to our comprehension of any subject, and I think faith especially, then we might need to live into our faith more, and open our mouths less.  What do you think?

Get Your Own: Outreach Magazine’s “Small Church” Issue

Outreach magazine’s annual small church issue is on its way to subscribers right now.  For those of you who don’t subscribe, you can order this single issue from Amazon. That’s right, the entire issue is available to you today from the friendly folks at Amazon.com.

After you check out this one issue, you’ll want to get your own subscription so you won’t miss any of Outreach, including my column – Small Church, Big Idea – in each issue.  Let me know what you think.  End of commercial.

Saddle Ridge Ranch VBS set is taking shape

Debbie is painting the backdrop and set for our community VBS.  This year the theme is “Saddle Ridge Ranch,” which is available at LifeWay stores.  We partner with 4 other community churches — a Presbyterian church, two United Methodist churches, and another Baptist church — for VBS each year.  All of our churches have about the same attendance, which is under 100 on average, so partnering with other churches helps share the cost, provides lots of adult helpers, and lots of kids for VBS.

Our VBS costs have run a little more than $20 per child in recent years, and we anticipate about 100 children, plus 60-70 workers.  Here’s our schedule for the week of June 27 – July 1:

  • 5:00 PM:  Our bus leaves our parking lot to make the trip to this year’s location at Chestnut Level Baptist Church.
  • 5:30 PM:  A snack supper is provided for $1 per child, and $2 per adult to help working families get there together.
  • 6:00 PM:  VBS starts each evening.
  • 8:00 PM:  VBS ends.
  • 8:20 PM:  Bus arrives back at our parking lot in Chatham.

We start on Sunday evening to give us time to set up that afternoon.  We don’t serve the snack supper on Sunday, but Monday through Thursday nights we feed 80-100 people supper.  Each church pays a pro-rated share of the expense of VBS based on the number of children (not adults or workers) each church has enrolled for the week.  Usually the host church for that year spends a little more than the other churches, but over 5 years it all balances out.  What is your church doing for VBS this year?

Our community VBS backdrop for Saddle Ridge Ranch. A bunkhouse and ranch entrance will add to the western theme this year.

What is the Gospel?

I have resisted getting into this because I keep telling myself, “This is not what you do here at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.”  Normally, I don’t engage in theological discussions, particularly those that are the equivalent of how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.  But, today I can’t help myself because some discussion is taking place around the interwebs about “what is the gospel?”

Continue reading “What is the Gospel?”