Are Outreach and Discipleship Mutually Exclusive?
We can be tempted to view outreach (the “Mission” of the Church) and discipleship (the formation of the individual follower of Jesus) as two distinct things. Outreach, or evangelism, can be seen as a project or endeavor that some people in the church engage in from time to time. Yet, to form healthy disciples we must help young people see that healthy discipleship involves an outward focus as a natural posture for life. The individual follower of Jesus is invited to do the things Jesus did and is doing. This involved extending the love, compassion and power of God wherever he went. Normal discipleship should look this way.
Here at Vineyard Anaheim our goal is to cultivate as a community a natural continuum of emphasis that transcends our gatherings and stretches into the life of the individual follower of Jesus. By that I mean that what we do corporately is meant to influence the formation of the individual. A good question for any community of Jesus-followers is: what do you corporately spend your time on? What do you value by promoting on a regular basis?
If evangelism or outreach is an occasional program-oriented endeavor that is buried in the bulletin alongside marriage classes and ministry training, it will be relegated to one of many options in the church. If we want outreach to be central, we must pull it into the arena of our normal and ongoing liturgy. It is only what we collectively do repetitiously that will become values and engrained DNA in the life of the individual followers within our communities. So how do we make it part of our ongoing liturgy?
Making Outreach Central
Liturgy is not a word we use often in the Vineyard, perhaps thinking it is a relic of a bygone era. However, liturgy simply means the repetitious acts of intentional spirituality that your community practices. My guess is that your church does around 30 minutes of worship each time you have a service. Also, you probably have a sermon that is between 20 and 40 minutes long. These normal occurrences are part of your liturgy. They say through repetition that these are valuable parts of who we are and essential to the ongoing pursuit of Jesus. They form DNA in your people. So, how can outreach become more a part of our DNA?
As I said, here at Vineyard Anaheim we look to create an environment where what we do together transfers to the day-to-day life of the individual followers of Christ that constitute our community. One of the ways we have tried to pull outreach into the ongoing culture of our community is by making it one of the very few things we repetitiously do. Sometimes to value one thing, you must simplify in other areas. We try to be very intentional about what we promote and corporately offer as an all-church event. We talk a lot about outreach and being inviters during our corporate gatherings and, while we offer multiple things throughout the community each week, we really focus on and promote only those that are outward in nature.
For instance, the bulletin may have 10 events coming up within it. We will only draw real attention to the one or two that are about reaching out or inviting our neighbor. We tell stories, promote outward testimonies and make a big deal about all church events that will be outward focused. In this focused way, we are looking to take outreach out of the “program” category, and into the focus of daily and weekly pursuit of Jesus.
We use two phrases around here for outward oriented opportunities:
• Come and See
• Go and Serve
Every quarter we look to have a major event that keeps outwardness in the center of our thinking. These major events have one of those two categories as its focus. “Come and see” events are anything we are doing here on our campus. The emphasis is on inviting and including. We may be doing a Fall-Festival, a concert, a parenting seminar, a skate event, or a myriad of other things. When these events are drawing near we make it very clear to the community here at Vineyard Anaheim that we are doing this event for one reason and one reason only: so that our people can invite and include their friends, family and neighbors to a low-hurdle experience of our community.
The other events are “Go and Serve” events. These are any type of event where the people from our community get off the church campus and go serve in the surrounding areas. We have a couple of these events a year as a church. We call them “Love your Neighbor days” and everyone signs up to go do acts of service and care in multiple ways together. When we do these “Come and See” or “Go and Serve” events, we include all children, youth and adults and make it the only thing we’re talking about for weeks surrounding the events. By this simple act of focus we bring the outwardness of the Kingdom into our corporate liturgy. This has had a real effect in seeing our people turn more outward.
Youth groups can employ this focus within their own routines, liturgy and focus. My encouragement, however, is to get the youth participating with the broader church as often as possible in being outward. Cultivating a communal focus on serving others and being inviters/includers builds something that is central to the Christ-like life. Look at your calendar, what you promote, and the things you do as a community and ask yourself: where can the outward nature of the church take more of the spotlight? Simply by turning your communal focus toward these things, we can bring outreach into greater continuity with the normal formation of our disciples.