10 Plumb Lines for Local Outreach (Part 2)
This is part 2 of a four-part series on local outreach. We’re sharing the ten “plumb lines” that guide our local outreach philosophy, as explained by Matt Mig, our Pastor of Local Outreach. Be sure to also read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.
3. Everyone Is Called To Go, And Some “Go” Here
Local outreach is part of our missions strategy at the Summit because we recognize that there are people right here in Raleigh-Durham who are far from God, and Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all people. Groups like the homeless and the prisoners may not naturally be in the places we live or work, so we’ve got to go to them.
If you read through the book of Acts, you’ll notice that for the early church sending was the role of the church as a body, and going was the role of the individual members. Everybody did both! Under the great commission, every Christian is called both to go themselves and to send others through the local church. For many of us, the place we will “go” is right here in RDU—to the homeless, the prisoner, and the disconnected youth. In fact, I’d say that if you’re a part of the Summit (and you’re not actively preparing to go to a church plant), you should probably fall into this category.
Our staff team and leaders often talk about how local outreach is primarily about sending, not serving. That doesn’t mean we don’t serve (we do!), but rather that the service projects are often the method by which we send people. Darrin Patrick says it well in his book For The City: “At the end of the day [it’s] not just about ‘volunteering’ to serve our city and help people—it’s about incarnation. It’s about giving our lives for the sake of those in need to share the message of hope that we have found in Jesus Christ. And we do this by serving.”
Practically, there are a couple of ways this plays out:
a. We don’t delegate ministry to the professionals. We partner with excellent organizations that set our people up for effective ministry. We look for partners who can get our members and small groups involved in relationships.
b. We try to minimize the events and projects held on campus. Of course, some events make sense to be at a Summit facility, but outreach isn’t outreach if people have to come to us! We want to leave as much space on your calendar as possible to be in the community.
We often respond to ideas from our members like this: “That’s a great idea, why don’t you run with it?” That’s not meant to be annoying (really!), but to encourage you to go!
4. People Are The Mission, Not Projects
If you look at our local outreach initiatives as a whole, we do a lot of projects and programs. Our “champions” spend time organizing project details, recruiting project volunteers, and measuring program outcomes. We even organize an entire week of ServeRDU projects each year. But ultimately, all of these projects function as our method for sending people into our community with the good news of the gospel.
You could think of local outreach projects as platforms that allow you to cross paths with people you otherwise might never meet. If we believe that God created every person in our city to worship him and our lives don’t normally intersect, then we’ve got to figure out how go to them. Often the most natural way to do this is by working together on a project that addresses a felt need in our community.
The value of a local outreach program is directly related to the quality of relationships that result from it. The “one-and-done” projects are rarely worth the resources invested in them because development (materially and spiritually) is a process, not a product. That’s why we give very little support to projects and programs that don’t have a high relational component to them. Even our ServeRDU Week projects—as low on relationship as we’ll go—are limited to the initiatives running all year, so there’s always an opportunity to take the next step with someone you meet.
Valuing people over projects doesn’t just require intentionality in planning and selecting projects. It also takes initiative from the volunteers participating in the projects. If a project gives us initial steps toward a relationship, we’ve got to proactively look for the next step toward friendship.
5. Loving Our Neighbor Means Knowing Our Neighbor.
Although this statement would certainly be applicable to people living next door to us, in this case we’re talking more about the Luke 10 kind of neighbor. Specifically, our neighbors who are homeless, orphans, prisoners, unwed moms or disconnected youth. We prioritize reaching these five groups of people in part because they are bound together by a common experience that can prevent them from seeing the gospel as good news for them.
It’s fine to talk about “reaching the homeless” or “caring for the orphan,” but we’ve got to be careful not to define our neighbors by their situation instead of by God’s design for them as his image bearers. We need to be sure we remember that our mission is to reach people who are homeless, not a faceless group of “the homeless.” Every person—no matter how desperate or broken—was created to bear God’s image, and it’s hard to view them that way when we only talk about the issues they face.
The book When Helping Hurts describes what can happen when we try to help our neighbor without actually knowing him or her. Materially rich people tend to assume poverty is a lack of things, but the materially poor people interviewed in the book described their poverty as “the shame and humiliation of being totally helpless and unwanted.” If that’s true, then it’s clear we’ve been communicating something other than the gospel to them.
As we engage programs dealing with material issues, we’ve got to make sure we actually know the individual people we’re serving. Do we know how this individual became homeless, or do we just know statistically how most people become homeless?
We must continually ask ourselves: Who did God create this person to be, and what’s standing in the way of that? If we are consistently asking these kinds questions, our actions will communicate good news.