Keys to a Dynamic Outreach Lifestyle

Author

Gary DeLashmutt

Introduction

Evangelistic campaigns are sometimes necessary and helpful to raise awareness about the importance of reaching out, but we need a church in which most people are mobilized to live an outreach lifestyle.  Most of us are not gifted evangelists, but we can all have dynamic lifestyles of outreach.  Here are three simple and easy to remember keys that help us to develop this lifestyle.

Remember that Jesus is with you!

The most common reason for poor outreach is not biblical ignorance or lack of training.  We know this is true, because brand-new Christians are often very open about their faith, while older Christians who have learned lots of Bible and had lots evangelistic training are often in full retreat.  The most common problem is fear and timidity, and the main reason for fear and timidity is losing sight of Jesus’ promise to be with us as we share him with others.  When we lose sight of Jesus’ role, we take too much upon ourselves.  We feel like we have to make everything happen, we have convict people of their need and convince them that Jesus is the way, we have to do it just right, or we will ruin the person.  We must bring people from hostility to conversion (instead of being one link in the chain).  When we have this flawed perspective, some of us become overly aggressive—but most of us retreat because it is overwhelming and intimidating.  But when we give Jesus his full role, sharing our faith becomes an exciting adventure!  This is why Jesus book-ended the Great Commission with two great promises that his authority and presence are with us as we “go” (Matt. 28:18-20).  And the book of Acts constantly records how Jesus’ presence and activity is the key to the early church’s fruitful witness.  Our consciousness needs to be soaked in this promise that Jesus is with us:

He is out ahead of you, drawing people to himself.  God was drawing the Ethiopian eunuch long before Phillip ever met him (Acts 8).  God was drawing Cornelius long before Peter ever met him (Acts 10).  Jesus told Paul that he had many people in Corinth who would be receptive to his message (Acts 18:9,10).  Although Satan constantly tells us that “no one is searching for God,” both the New Testament and our own pre-Christian experience assure us that this is not the case.

He is able to connect you with those he is drawing.  The Spirit guided Phillip to the eunuch, he guided Peter to Cornelius, and he guided Paul to Lydia (Acts 16).  He delights to connect willing witnesses to honest seekers.  As we pray that God will do this, and as we look for and follow his promptings, we will experience the awesome truth that God is still the God of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch!

He is able to empower you as you share.  The great theme of Acts is Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would give the early Christians power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8).  Luke then narrates situation after situation in which Jesus’ followers with “filled with the Spirit” to effectively and boldly communicate the good news (cf. 2:4; 4:8,31; 7:55; 9:17,20; 13:9,52).  When we obey the Spirit’s prompting to share about Jesus, we will experience him giving us courage and the words to explain the good news in ways that are effective for our hearers.

He convicts people of the truth about Jesus that you have shared.  This is what Jesus promised his disciples (Jn. 16:8).  This is why the crowd listening to Peter was “cut to the quick” and ask what they needed to do to be forgiven (Acts 2:37).  This is what happened to Lydia as she listened to Paul (Acts 16:14).  This is what Paul means when reminded the Thessalonians that his message came with “power and full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5).  Spirit-filled witnessing goes deep into the hearer’s heart.  God speaks to their consciences and tells them that this message is true, and calls on them to receive his offer of salvation.  Trusting that God’s Spirit is active in this way, we should not focus on people’s immediate outward response when we share the good news with them.  Trust that when they leave, the Holy Spirit goes with them to convict them of the truth of what they heard.

He has gifted you in ways that not only enable you to build up other Christians, but also enable you to be his witness.  In Acts 9:32-43, we see Peter (a gifted healer and evangelist) bringing many people to Christ.  But we also read about Dorcas (gifted in service and mercy) and the many widows who apparently met Christ through her service ministry.  How has God gifted you?  What opportunities do you have to use your gifts to serve people who don’t know Christ?  Pray that God will show you how you can do this, and follow the guidance he gives you.  You will find that the light of Jesus’ love will burn brightly through you when you reach out through your gifts, and you will also share the good news with greater confidence when you are using your gifts.

How often do you reflect on these great promises?  (Reading Acts periodically is a great reminder!)  How often do you reflect on how Jesus drew you, how he connected you to those who shared with you, and how he convicted you that you needed to receive his gift?  How often do you reflect on how he has guided and empowered and gifted you to share with others?  This is the great foundation of an evangelistic lifestyle!

How often do you remind one another of these wonderful promises?  How often do you point out to one another examples of God fulfilling these promises?  How much does your corporate prayer thank God for these promises, and the ways you see him fulfilling them?  This is a key way that we “stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24)!

Prayer, care & share

The book of Acts records a pattern that reveals the spiritual dynamics of the early church’s dynamic witness (see chaps. 2,3,10,16):

The believing community prayed corporately and fervently that they might be Jesus’ witnesses (cf. 1:14; 16:25)

Jesus worked supernaturally through them to show lost people his redemptive love (cf. 2:2:1-4; 16:26-28).  In Acts, this was normally through miraculous healings of non-Christians.  But it may be that the key is not a miracle, but a display of Jesus’ love that goes beyond mere human benevolence.  Spirit-led deeds of kindness may be just as powerful as miracles!  (The epistles emphasize good deeds rather than miracles.)

Lost people, arrested by this supernatural display of love, often asked God’s people about it—what does it mean, how/why did you do this, how can I get in on it, etc. (cf. 2:12; 16:30)? God’s people responded by explaining the good news (cf. 2:14-40; 16:31).  The content of their explanation was always the same—Jesus as the unique Son of God and Savior of the world, and his gift of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.  But the way they explained the good news differed widely according to their audience, the situation, etc.

A simpler and easier-to-remember version of this is PRAYER-SHARE-CARE.  See these three themes in Jesus’ ministry (cf. Lk. 5:1-32).  See these three emphases in Paul’s exhortation in Col. 3:17-4:6.

PRAYER: An effective evangelistic lifestyle is undergirded by ongoing, fervent prayer—both individual and corporate prayer, scheduled and spontaneous.  In prayer, we freely acknowledge that this task is utterly impossible for us, and we affirm our trust that nothing is impossible with God.  We thank him for the ways he has promised to be with us (see above), and we ask him to provide what he has promised—eyes to recognize who he is drawing, his heart of love for people, guidance on how to show his love, courage to share our faith, etc.  We intercede for the people he has put on our hearts.  And as we pray along these lines, God often grants us more guidance on what he is doing and how he wants us to work with him.

CARE: Jesus wants to draw people to himself through the good deeds that he inspires us to do for them (Matt. 5:16).  As we obey God’s promptings to show his love to the people he has put brought into our lives, we overturn negative misconceptions (Titus 2:5,8) and we “adorn” the good news that we share (Titus 2:10).[1]  This caring is far more than merely being passively “nice”—it is active and sacrificial.  It may mean simply being a good listener, or treating a difficult person with patience and respect.  It may mean offering to help in an unexpected and sacrificial way, or to gladly do more than was expected.  It may mean extending forgiveness, or humbly apologizing for wrong-doing.  It may involve praying for and/or with them—and seeing God move in dramatic ways.  The Holy Spirit longs to show lost people how much he loves them, and we are his hands and feet and mouth!  As we incarnate God’s love in Spirit-led ways, the recipients of this love often become curious about why we care so much.  Conversely, when our message about God’s love is unaccompanied by personal and practical expressions of his love, we should not be surprised when people are unmoved.

SHARE: Jesus will guide us to communicate the wonderful news of his love—and his guidance will be appropriate to the situation.  It may be to give him credit when someone compliments you on your good deeds.  It may be to talk naturally about your current involvement with his people, or what you have recently learned from him.  It may be to explain how you met him and how he has changed your life.  It may be to respectfully explain why you believe Christianity is objectively true.  It may be to explain clearly the content of the good news and how this differs from their assumptions about Christianity.  It may be to boldly call on someone to receive Christ.  God will guide you about how to share, but his guidance will always lift up Jesus as the One whose love is both freely available and life-changing.  Remember that your own testimony of how Jesus has changed your life is often the most powerful message you can share.[2]  Many Christians feel reluctant to share because of their biblical and/or apologetical ignorance.  But we are all experts of the most powerful message of all—the story of how Jesus has made himself known to us and changed our lives!

While there is certain logical order in prayer, care and sharing, in practice there is no rigid sequentialism.  They are like three strands in a braided rope.  Prayer motivates us to care and share, and caring and sharing moves us to prayer.  Caring opens doors for sharing, and sharing about our relationship with Jesus motivates us to represent him well through caring.  If we will only be sensitive and responsive to his promptings, God’s Spirit will lead us into a lifestyle that is increasingly characterized by this 3-fold heart of love for people—and we will see people respond by coming to Jesus!

Fish in many “ponds”

Jesus told his fishermen disciples that he would make them “fishers of people.”  First-century fishermen worked together, and they cast nets in many, many places.  By contrast, many American Christians are solitary, sleepy fishermen—dozing by the river bank with one token line in the water.  When we follow Jesus, he leads us into a teamwork lifestyle of abundant fishing.  This involves fishing in many “ponds”—reaching out to a wide variety of people in many contexts.  While abundant fishermen naturally hope to add converts to their home group, they eschew “evangelistic profiling”—they “fish” even for people that they know will never come to their home group (e.g., Phillip with the Ethiopian eunuch).  And when home group members fish abundantly, God (eventually) generously blesses their home group with new converts—not only converts that are the direct result of their outreach efforts, but also new people from indirect and unexpected sources.  He honors their efforts by entrusting hungry souls to their care. 

Leaders and workers should model a lifestyle of abundant fishing in many “ponds.”  Consider the following examples:

 “Bridges” – This term refers to new Christians who have credibility with friends and family members.  The good news of Jesus travels very naturally (and often rapidly) across such “bridges.”  John the Baptist was a “bridge” to some of his followers who became Jesus’ disciples, and these men were “bridges” to others who also became his disciples (Jn. 1:35-51).  In Acts, the good news commonly spread from a new convert to his “household” (cf. Acts 16:30-34).  “Bridges” are one of the most fruitful avenues of outreach.  Good fishermen therefore work with God to both take care of new converts and reach out with and through them to their friends and family members.

Be careful not to monopolize “bridge’s” time in Christian activities.  Instead, show them that God has given them a wonderful opportunity to share Jesus with their friends and family members.  Offer to meet their loved ones and help them share Christ in appropriate ways.  Advise them on what “come and see” events may help their loved ones learn more about Christ (see below).  Consider urging them to host a short-term Bible study with their loved ones.  Tell them to expect some resistance to their new-found faith, and help them to not take such resistance personally. 

But what if your home group has no “bridges?”  Many home groups find themselves in this situation.  And in our hyper-individualistic and alienated culture, new Christians often have few close relationships.  We cannot rely exclusively on “bridges”—we need to develop a lifestyle of outreach that “fishes” in many other “ponds.”

“Come & See” Events – This term refers to the many ways that Christians provide opportunities for non-Christians to join them in meetings and activities, through which they both learn about Jesus and experience his love through the Christian community.  The Christians in Jerusalem gathered at Solomon’s Portico for the apostles’ teaching, and presumably invited their friends to come with them (Acts 2-4).  The early Christians gathered in homes for teaching and encouragement, and invited their non-Christians friends to come with them (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Abundant fishermen recognize the power of quality “come and see” events, and make full use of them.  They are great for “bridge’s” friends, and for interested parties in your normal sphere of influence (below).  And since spiritually hungry people often come to such events unattended, look prayerfully for such people whenever you attend a “come and see” event.

Dwell has created many of these events, including Central Teachings (where we can bring friends and meet seekers), home group meetings, “Conversation & Cuisine,” Pub Nights, home group parties, various classes (Investigating Christianity; Basic Christianity; Alpha Course), etc.

Normal Sphere of Influence – This term refers to the people with whom God has sovereignly brought you into regular contact (e.g., neighbors, work associates, family members).  It is no accident that you find yourself in regular contact with these people.  God has sovereignly placed you among them to be the light of his love and truth, and he has uniquely supplied you with what you need to be his light.

Many New Testament passages emphasize the importance of representing Jesus well to such people (Col. 3:17-4:1; Titus 2:1-3:8; 1 Pet. 2:11-3:16).  These passages presume that you are sharing about Christ, and they emphasize the importance of your loving lifestyle because it overturns negative caricatures of Christianity, creates positive associations and curiosity about your faith, etc.

Consider structures that help you to show and share Christ’s love with these people: short-term Bible studies, Mom’s Play Groups, block parties, etc.

Sometimes, these people are already seeking God and respond gratefully to the message of God’s love.  But more often, God wants to work through you to overturn misconceptions about Christianity, and to create positive associations with Jesus that bear fruit later on.  They may turn to you when they experience a crisis, because they trust your love and know that your faith has sustained you.  In the meantime, you should be a faithful light to these people while you also “fish” elsewhere!

Divine Appointments – This term refers to Spirit-orchestrated opportunities to show and share God’s love with strangers.  God is at work to draw people to himself, and he delights in connecting spiritually hungry people with willing witnesses.  Few things are more exciting than being part of these God-initiated “connections!”

The gospels record many “divine appointments” between Jesus and hungry people.  The best example is the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jn. 4)—and Jesus taught his disciples to “lift their eyes” to see similar opportunities God wanted to give them (Jn. 4:35-38).  The book of Acts is full of these “divine appointments.” [3]  The best example is the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).  God is still the God of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch!

Pray every day for these opportunities!  Cultivate alertness and expectancy for these opportunities.  Be willing to obey when the Spirit’s prompts you. Remember that it may be anything from a deed/word of kindness to asking a question to sharing your testimony to challenging someone to receive Christ.  Avoid a “bottom-line” mentality (“It doesn’t count unless I shared the gospel/led them to Christ.”).  Success is obeying God’s prompting, whether that means helping someone move from “indifferent” to “curious” or challenging him to receive Christ.

“Go & Be” initiatives – This term refers to prayerfully initiating involvement with a network of non-Christians that you would not otherwise know.  In addition to being lights for Christ in our normal spheres of influence and being responsive to divine appointments, God often wants to place us among social networks of people who are far from him. 

The Great Commission emphasizes this kind of “going” initiative (Matt. 28:19), and the book of Acts is full of such initiatives.  God led Peter to “go” to Cornelius’ Gentile household (Acts 10).  God worked through the persecution of the Jerusalem church to get them to “go” to Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11).  God called Paul and Barnabas to “go” to new groups of people outside of Antioch (Acts 13).

There are many opportunities for deliberate going in our society.  You can join an entertainment-related group in some activity that you enjoy.  You can do volunteer work for many businesses or social services. [4]  You can help one of the many immigrant communities in our city.  You can “go” with another like-minded Christian friend, or with a non-Christian friend—or you can do it alone.  Something wonderful happens when you prayerfully decide to do this because you want to be a light for Christ—you pray more beforehand, you see God providing opportunities to care and share, and you sometimes have the privilege of helping hungry people meet Christ!

Why shouldn’t most of us “go” in some way?  What would happen if most of us made “going” a normal part of our lives?

Conclusion

What one or two things did God show you during this talk?  How can you act on these things?

Pass on these simple principles to the people in your home group by sharing them, referring to them, reminding one another of them, etc.



[1] “Are we the kind of church of which (our community) says: ‘We don’t share a lot of their beliefs, but I shudder to think of this (community) without them.  They are such an important part of the community.  They give so much!  If they left we’d have to raise taxes because others won’t give of themselves like they do.”  Tim Keller in John Piper & Justin Taylor (general editors), The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007), p. 122.

[2] Consider how much testimony is emphasized in New Testament evangelism.  “Witness” (marturo) is the main word Jesus uses to describe our evangelistic mission (Jn. 15:27; Acts 1:8)—and it means “give your testimony.”  The gospel of John emphasizes the primary role of personal testimony (Jn. 1,9,20:31 among many).  Luke features Paul’s testimony 3 times in Acts (9,22,26), and uses diamarturomai (“solemnly testify” –  under oath testimony) many times to describe Peter and Paul’s preaching (2:40; 8:25; 10:42; 18:5; 20:21; 28:23).  Rev. 12:11 emphasizes that we overcome the Serpent’s deception (of others?) by “the word of our testimony.”  Even 1 Pet. 3:15, a text often cited to emphasize the importance of apologetics, presumes that you have shared about the hope that you have so that people ask you to give an account for this hope. 

[3] As I read through Acts with this in mind, I found that of the 51 witnessing events Luke recorded, 41 of them fit into this category, while only 2 clearly concerned “warm” evangelism (8 were unclear).  I don’t conclude from this that most of our evangelism must be “cold”—but I do conclude from it that God delights in surprising us with these opportunities if only we ask for them and then open our mouths.

[4] “Both individually and congregationally, evangelicals are more likely to be involved in activities within their own religious communities but are less likely to be involved in the broader community . . . The social capital of evangelicals . . . is invested at home more than in the wider community.  Among evangelicals, church attendance is not correlated with membership in community organizations . . . Most evangelical . . . supports the religious life of the congregation itself . . . but does not extend to the broader community as much as volunteering by members of other faiths.” (Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2000), pp. 77,78.)