- Convey stories throughout the church.
- The “E” word intimidates many. Consider using the term “Kindness Outreach.”
- Stories are powerful, especially when conveyed by people others have known to be timid.
We hope that each time you connect with those in your city with acts of kindness, generosity, and practical love you are giving out a “Connect Card.” Many well meaning folks ask, “Why use any sort of card at all? Isn’t that a ‘string’ when you say ‘no strings attached’?” The reality is that people may have questions or want to connect with you after being served by an act of kindness. This is a longer discussion than we have the space for here, but in short think of this:
But alas, this is not the case in any city, or even small town that we know of. Thus there is a need to connect with people we are touching in a tactful way as we serve, love, nudge forward toward the kingdom of Jesus. The key word here is “tactful.”
When we first began using cards they read, “If we can be of more help, give us a call.” Now, over 20 years later and literally millions of cards, in several languages, those exact words are far from ideal. As of today, let’s move forward with a slight, but vital edit on that sentence.
The word that is way off in that sentence is “if.” We really don’t mean “if,” were we to sit down and chat for a bit. “If” implies, “You probably have a great life with very few problems, maybe no problems whatsoever…” And on it goes. The truth is, none of us / none of them are having a great time in life for the most part. We are all fellow strugglers. In Christ we have a deep, abiding peace. But life is difficult for all of us.
The following is a much better phrase for our cards:
“Call us when we can serve you next.”
“Give us a call when your next need arises.”
“Please call us when you have another need. Our aim is to show love, not simply talk love.”
“We look forward to connecting with you again soon!”
These differences may seem like slight variations to you, but they are huge to those who read closely. By removing the word “if” we are saying with each card, “You really do have pain in life like all of us. When that pain occurs again, we’ll be around. We are here for the long haul. Give us a call, we’ll be here!”
There are ways to charge up your connect cards and make them more effective. Getting rid of the “IF” word helps open the door for people who need help. Take the following tips to heart and put a caffeinated surge of momentum into your connect cards!
Not-yet believers roll their eyes at a ten meter distance when in the presence of anything “church cute” though, most believers are used to it and thus don’t notice. Often it is at a ridiculous level. Think of the $50 fake tip tract, “Do I have a tip for you!…” then with real money, they leave a 1% tip. Disgusting!
Some general rules:
This is a bit tongue-in-cheek but you get the message.
People are hungry beyond words for passion. Not raving, nutty, holding a bullhorn stuff. That’s not passion. That’s often someone in need of a Thorazine drip.
Here is the mental picture you are shooting for… An invitation to a great party that is happening in town. The “Jesus party” that is happening at your weekend celebration, where all who come are being accepted, loved and celebrated regardless of their background and baggage. Acceptance is step one toward change. You were accepted into change whether you realized it or not. While we were “yet sinners,” Jesus was literally dying to obtain God’s acceptance of us. We love, we hug. Most importantly, we serve and invite! No questions asked. God’s Sprit does the changing. People either change or they grow weary of the presence of God’s Spirit and leave until later.
The phone number printed on your connect cards is a very precious gateway into a connection with Jesus. People bold enough and ready enough to actually dial the number on the card that a was given to them by a follower of Jesus do not want to listen to your church’s automated phone menu or talk to the volunteer church receptionist. They want to talk to a pastor, the pastor. For over 25 years, I has been putting his personal cell number on connect cards. There are two things to realize:
There are numerous opportunities in your community right now where you can begin to show God’s love in practical ways. God’s Spirit is already at work and He is inviting you to join Him right now. So let’s get out there and show some love! And while you are at it, give the people you serve the opportunity to connect with you by putting a connect card in their hand when you serve them. If you don’t have a supplier yet for your connect cards, my team over at Kindness Resources has put together some great designs that get the message across well.
Stop Trying, Start Living
“You know Steve, it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks…” This is the line I got from a pastor (who was a number of years younger than me!) in the middle of a coaching conversation concerning turning his congregation outward.
Outflow is not about learning a new approach to sharing Jesus. Outflow is returning to what has been in our hearts from the beginning – giving language and feet to the Spirit’s presence. Doing and saying the very things that Jesus did. In short, the stuff anyone can easily do.
I told him, “This isn’t about finding a new blueprint. This is going back to where you started. Isn’t it true that as we talk about “living in the Outflow” that most of what we are touching on is completely natural – it is harkening back to where you started with Jesus?”
He admitted indeed it was. As we spoke he admitted the challenge for him was “unlearning” things. It was like removing “Saul’s armor” – similar to what David did before meeting up with Goliath. King Saul in his desire to “help” which would have no doubt ended in David’s demise if he had taken the complicated course.
“Living” – the key idea
Absorbing a new language.
In this case the language we were first inclined to speak was the one placed in our hearts when we initially encountered Jesus. After speaking with many hundreds in in-depth conversations I have found a consistent pattern that upon initially encountering Jesus we found it natural to love our friends into relationship with the Master.
Somewhere along the way, a well-intentioned, apparently “More mature” believer (AKA ‘Mumic’) happened along and attempted to “disciple” us forward to make us more effective. What we didn’t know was that this person(s) had virtually no experience in ushering not-yet believers to Jesus. Without getting into statistical depth here, suffice it to say, stats consistently show that of those that consider themselves the most committed “evangelistic” believers, only 5% will dare to share their faith even once in their lifetimes. That not only makes me cry, but it certainly makes Jesus cry.
Total Fluency – the ability to think in a new language without hesitation.
I am a big fan of the “immersion” approach to picking up a new language. Schooling is great. Audio labs – you can have ‘em. I say, toss a newcomer into the deep end with a new language. Force them to speak the new lingo and they will out of necessity become fluent as fast as possible. That was my experience with Swedish and Norwegian. I spent 5 days at a “culture camp” with people from all over the world in an exchange program in college. We memorized a number of phrases (which we took by faith meant a certain thing) then jumped in with both feet with families who didn’t speak English. Scary? You bet! But after a few weeks of realizing that people are people are people, it was a blast! Five times a day I heard someone give me their best imitation of Clint Eastwood saying, “Make my day!”
Within 3 months I was fluent enough that I was no longer thinking in English – then translating to Norwegian – then opening my mouth. Most who say they have studied another language have never gotten to that point. I know numbers of people with Master’s Degrees – that’s high school, plus four years of undergradate schooling, plus at least 2 years of grad school – and they still aren’t even nearly fluent as described above.
Once fluency is attained one thinks, speaks and moves all in syncronicity. When it comes to outwardness, the challenge comes here: Very few in our generation ever become comfortable enough in living in the presence of Jesus – living like Jesus – as though his life is the norm that we attain “traction” with not-yet believers in our culture. The difficulty is that we are satisfied with a shellac coating of the appearance of change – the appearance of Jesus’ life in us. Nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. We are salt and light – first to the Church – then to the culture.
Fluent, Walking, Talking, Noticing Jesus Inviters
Let’s drop the idea of trying to “do something for Jesus” from this point forward. The very idea of looking for the next big thing that will open closed hearts is out of sync with the way Jesus conducted life all of his days. Be yourself. Live your life by being yourself as you are walking in God’s Spirit. Clearly what we do will resemble what Jesus did / how he lived. Peter said it very well and to the point: “Jesus went about doing good to all kinds of people…” Acts 10:38. Look for the next invitation. It is on God’s calendar for you today I suspect. Maybe in the next few minutes.
Relax, listen to God’s voice as you listen to those in your path and see the great things God places in front of you! This is more fun than a herd of hamsters!
In one sense, spiritual matters are matters of growth with discipline and practice like all else in life. Just as a seed is planted in the ground, then grows slowly, matures, and eventually bears fruit, so it is with new skills in our lives – whether they are spiritual or intellectual.
On the other hand, some spiritual matters are a combination of both skill sets and “anointing.” Anointing is that vertical dynamic that can come only from God into our lives. It is the difficult to account for part of the equations in our lives that explains how we gained momentum or success. Some call it the “God factor.”
When it comes to building a culture with the dynamic of serving, there are lots of lessons that are necessary to learn if we are to be successful. How do we avoid the wasting of time that is inevitable if we take the journey on our own as a single local church?
WE CONNECT WITH OTHERS!
However there is great, good news here too!
Just read on…
There Is A Spiritual Dynamic To This
With the serving dynamic there is something happening here that is going on, that cannot be described with words, it must be experienced. In this sense, the servant evangelism / Outflow culture is unique in the church world. It is an “Experience first… explain later” dynamic.
There Is A Process Of Growth Involved
One factor that has been troublesome that we as leaders in the Outflow movement have dealt with for years is the tendency for newcomers to oversimplify the message present here. To some newcomers this appears to be as simple as, “We just give away some water and smile – that’s it…” This message is in fact simple – but not single dimensioned in the least. In a day when so many messages being sent are indeed that cooked down, this message is not in that quadrant in the least. Those who catch on to the Outflow culture are teachable ones who are flexible, open-hearted and willing to change in order to be effective.
As You Jump Onboard With This Living, Learning Dynamic You Can Skip Over Some Rudimentary Steps
In short, this is a good deal! All who are thirsty, come and drink. Let’s serve our way into the hearts of our cities and see Jesus transform all that is going on around us.
“So how many of those we served yesterday came today?”
That was the question Big Dave Cain asked in July of 1985, a couple of weeks after we had gone “public.” In the weeks prior to our launch we had a weekly group of what I affectionately termed the “Rambos.” They were up for literally any and all outreach ideas I came up with – never once was any of my ideas resisted in the least!…It takes a special breed of person to pioneer this sort of outreach.
After going out every single Saturday from 11:00 until 1:00 with a team of 10 to 15 we had served a cumulative group of maybe 10,000. We were learning our “riffs” in the serving game. Since then, if high volume is the goal, we have learned to serve as many as 10,000 in 90 minutes with a group of 15 – no kidding!
“Well, of the 50 people who came today, I think there might have been 3 people we served, but I’m not absolutely certain.
As you read this you might be discouraged at the sheer numbers involved – 10,000 seeds and several weeks or months later 3 people show up on a Sunday. But you might be surprised that we were both ecstatic at what was happening in our midst.
Keep in mind, we were the very first church in the world that we were aware of that was taking this approach to sharing Christ’s love to our city. We had nothing by which to measure our success or lack thereof. We were simply utterly convinced that we were slowly, bit by bit, in this city that had been objectively measured as the “Crabbiest City” in the US, changing the spiritual atmosphere. We were convinced that as we did the deeds of Jesus we were going to see the Holy Spirit change our city.
Since the first edition of this ezine, I have received 99.9% absolutely super positive, enthusiastic responses from readers. Comments have come in like, “Wow! This is exactly what I have been looking for!” and “Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time and effort to put together the stories and encouraging ideas that challenge me and my people to aim out – this is just what the doctor ordered.” On the other hand I have received a couple of dissenting emails. My “favorite” one was from a guy who “confronted” me personally as the “leader of this thing.”
“I don’t believe one bit in this kindness and generosity garbage. I believe in confronting people just like Jesus did.” I asked this guy exactly where did Jesus confront people other than the Pharisees? Jesus went from person to person meeting needs, showing generosity in abundance – at least a hundred individual times in the four gospels.
I’ve spoken with scads of people with “strong convictions” about how evangelism should and shouldn’t be done. I literally have yet to meet one such highly opinionated person who strongly reacts to our stories of kindness and generosity who had done any attempt at evangelism in many years – sometimes never in their life.
I Scattered, Watered… and Waited
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like the wind – he (not IT – please, never refer to the Holy Spirit as “it” – that is incredibly offensive to him) is not one who can be controlled. We see the effect of wind on the trees when the wind blows, but where it comes from or where it goes, we do not know (John 3). Lasting conversions are wrought by the power of the Spirit, not by a slick sounding, win-the-argument approach. How many of you have won the argument but lost the battle? Lasting, deep down conversions are very rarely quick. Don’t fret about the waiting period between scattering your seeds of generosity and what is going to take place once the Holy Spirit begins to shape people’s hearts in a large-scale fashion. That’s God’s business. You keep on scattering your seeds – ideally with your people living a lifestyle of generosity and kindness. Sooner or later your crops will come in…as Jude writes, “Walk by love.”
Billy Graham’s Words of Encouragement
A couple of years ago I had occasion to spend time with Billy Graham for an extended time with just him and a couple of his associates in his hotel room. It’s a long story as to how this came about that I’ll tell some other time, but suffice it to say that Billy was very curious about our outward focused approach to sharing Christ and living out the message of the kingdom. The day he arrived in town for a 90 minute event we had organized with about 300 churches locally that touched around 350,000 with God’s kindness. Billy was blown away. He asked for a special meeting with me. When asked if I could make it I told the Graham people, “I think I can clear my schedule for that!”
Billy told me: “I have been praying for years upon end for what seemed until today in vain… that God would raise up people – many people who would see the value of planting in the evangelism process. If the Church doesn’t begin to grab onto the value of planting as part of the evangelism process – and get that value rather quickly – I fear for the future of evangelism in the US. We are going to end up with everything harvested and no new crops in process – on their way toward the harvest.”
Then he finished out his intense impartation to me with a charge that I will no doubt go to my grave pondering… “Promise me one thing Steve…That you will spend the rest of your life not just planting seeds as Jesus did – the seeds of the kingdom that will lead ultimately to the harvest – but that you will stir up many, many around the world who will get the value for this idea that Paul wrote of ‘Planting – Watering – Harvesting’ (1 Cor. 3:6).”
I told him, “Billy, I will spend the rest of my life doing this – I’ll gather, I’ll connect, I’ll write, talk, whatever it takes.”
I don’t know if Billy believes in or would be comfortable using the word “prophecy” as some reading this would, but as one who has received many prophecies in my decades as a Christ-follower, what Billy spoke over me that day had all the elements of a life-changing prophecy.
He spoke not just to me, but – and here’s the most important line of this issue of Serve! for this month – Billy was speaking to each of you! It is highly likely that Jesus is calling you too to spend your life carrying this message of seed-flinging of generosity, kindness, practical love – living as Jesus lived – loving as Jesus loved. We are out to change the world. Talking is a part of it, but the lion’s share is going to be spent with us first living, showing, walking it out with a gigantic smile on our faces!
It was a common sight to see men of all levels of social strata to wear belts and suspenders at the same time in one city in which I launched churches. The first time I saw this I thought, “Wow, this guy must have some sort of neurosis – he is really afraid of his pants falling down. This must be a heart metaphor of his fear of change.” This city was super conservative. So too, the fashion statement of belts and suspenders was common.
Fear of Change Is Predictable In Every Human Heart
Apart from the intervening presence of God’s Spirit, we are all doomed to not participate in the advance of God’s kingdom. We will simply get in his way continually. The giant question is, “How do we get past our fear of change?” We make adjustments as God’s word calls to us.
Change: Get Used To It! It’s Eternal
The metaphor God seems to like the most to explain the presence of his kingdom is that of a river. From Genesis to Revelation, and many points between, the life, the kinetic presence of God is pictured frequently as a river. It is noteworthy that God’s presence is not depicted as non-flowing water. Still waters, yes, yet progressive waters. That speaks clearly of progress, change.
A thought to ponder: As leaders we would do well to prepare our people to get used to change on this side of heaven. Otherwise, they are going to have the shock of eternity when they get into God’s presence and realize that change is the essence of God’s kingdom. God is unchanging. Ironically, when God shows up, everything begins to change immediately. Our people need to hear that and to get used to that.
Any sense of control on our parts is nothing more than a thin veil of illusion. I don’t know your story, but this I can guarantee you. Someday, not long from now, a huge adjustment is coming your way. It will be something you perceive as horrible, terrible, no good and very bad. What happens will knock you off your feet. You won’t see it coming. Similar to a “clothesline” tackle in the NFL, you won’t be simply taken out, you will feel annihilated. This annihilation can happen at many levels. You may have already had it happen to you. When it happens remember – this is an adjustment from God that is what Jesus spoke of – “For those who have ears to hear…” Without this adjustment, you will forever struggle with change. You will always put on both a belt and suspenders.
Attack Your Heart
What’s a person to do? Like Luther (AKA, “Brother Martin”), start each day with a heart attack – uh, make that, you allow God’s truth to adjust your heart. His version of it was “God forgive me for the best deeds I’m about to commit.” There is no help we have to offer God or his purposes. As we, in a sense, throw in the towel freshly each day, when it comes to our ability to attain the standards of God, we realize our best deeds are the “filthy rags” Isaiah referred to in Isaiah 64:6. (That term refers to discarded menstrual hygiene materials – no version I know of captures that Hebrew term.)
Once we understand that we cannot add to what God is doing – nothing but pull the “yes” trigger – yes to being available – then we flow with the change God is ushering in. When he does something great, we are the most surprised.
Hold that thought. Let’s switch gears for a moment.
Jesus calls us to step out of our safety zones and become extenders of his kingdom. Prayer is more often than not used as a cop out for obedience or an alternative to taking the obvious risk involved in these steps.
You do know that is what you are don’t you? You are more than anything a Kingdom Extender.
Jesus made clear it as can be in Matthew 28 on the Mount of Ascenscion when he called the original Apostles to go to the ends of the earth exporting this message — this life that he had shown them — the life he had lived before them. It was a simple enough matter. It was a matter of obedience.
Question 2: What is the greatest barrier to God’s invitation to us to export his kingdom across the span of Planet Earth?
From where I have been and what I have experienced in the last three decades of Church history it seems obvious that the greatest obstacle is “Fear of the future” or perhaps, “Fear of change.” In any case it is some form of fear. Fear stated simply is “loss of control.”
As a new believer and in a great Bible Institute in the Los Angeles area, one of the hallowed ministries that budding “spiritual giants” got involved with was the “Street Witnessing Team.” Being the incredibly shy person that I am, I felt immediately called to this outreach (that’s a joke about being shy). Long story short, a dozen of us met every single Friday evening for an entire school year from 7:00 to 10:00 PM and prayed in preparation for going out to do ministry. We prayed for everything imaginable and then some things not even a highly creative person could conceive of.
By about our Spring break it dawned on me — we were never going to actually go out to do anything. At the end of the year I was correct AND I was asked to pray and fast as to whether God might be leading me to take over as leader of this group for the upcoming school year. I told the leader, “Pray and fast about that? You may have several years on me as a believer but, pardon my French — you are a spiritual flake and are stuck in a place of fear. I love you bro, but please drop this prayer and fasting smokescreen stuff. You are confusing new believers and making outreach seem mysterious, complex and ultimately miscommunicating what Jesus clearly had in mind. I will lead the group but not because I have gone off on a prayer and fasting jag – –it is obvious I am the one to lead it. Enough said.” Of course he shook his head and said something about me learning my lesson one day…blah, blah.
The last I heard that super spiritual guy has had a string of jobs over the past 30 years from selling vacuum cleaners to used cars. I wonder if he prayed and fasted for days on end for each of those moves… He was so spiritual he was like Brer Rabbit in the midst of thorns. The only question at hand was, “How many pokes am I going to receive, hundreds or thousands?” He set himself up for punishment by his super-small confining life.
Valentines Day – the universal celebration of love.
Anyone keen on walking in, learning about, and speaking the fluent language of love will be electrified this day. Get excited – spread some around. You aren’t the source of it so take a risk here and love like there’s no tomorrow! (I can tell you from experience, you may be right in that guess).
Problem is – many if not most who are purveyors of love as part of their role sketch – turns out they / we aren’t so great at it. Not so great until the yogurt hits the fan anyway.
Most pastors I know (myself included) deeply love people… in theory. Hey, it’s in their job description.
“Humanity I love, its people I can’t stand…” – Charles Schultz
This line could well be the universal static cling window sticker of pastors.
Change usually happens in me when I get sick and tired of my own pathetic, lackluster, embarrassing ways. Strong change in me is almost always preceded by an emotional double slap to the face (after which the appropriate response is, “Thanks, I needed that.”) Such encounters are usually delivered accidentally – in the category of ‘out of the mouth of babes’ communication. Nearly always the “Slap” that begins the needed change means nothing to the “slapper” but plenty to the “slapee” so long as they are paying just a bit of attention to life.
A mega domino toppling began some years ago when driving with my daughter Laura. She is the quietest and greatest people noticer of the three in my quiver. We were on a “Date” to see a film. On our way we had seen several people holding the pervasive ‘Will Work For Food’ signs. In the space of a fifteen-minute drive we passed by three sign holders on various corners. She asked the obvious – ‘Dad, you talk about showing love to people all the time. Why don’t you show love to those people too?’
I began to give her my standard ‘Well dear, it’s complicated… addicts… systemic behaviors… ‘ After a few syllables of that nonsense I literally grew nauseous at myself. This was one heck of a slappish moment for me. If I live to be one hundred that moment will stand out as one of the great slaps of a lifetime for me!
The notion of having a policy regarding how to respond to people in need, with signs, for example, seems absurd. ‘Policies’ about ‘love’ – someone please explain how those two words fit into the same sentence. I’m all ears on that one. How about we join in what Jesus is up to in given situations. In short, ‘Go with God!’
A need is not an invitation to act upon. If that is confused we will need more therapy and an increase in our meds shortly.
Our invitation came that day.
Another sign holder crossed our path. This time it was a couple. They were low IQ people who had set up in front of a store in the downtown area. I had chatted with them previously … and walked past them. They sold chewing gum and mints to cover their expenses as they sat on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk.
Laura got it first. (Dang it, why are kids so intuitive?)
I asked Laura to pick out her favorite flavor of chewing gum. Our payment was made with the cash we had in pocket to pay for the film we were going to see on our ‘date.’ Don’t recall how much it was but it was all we had. It was the most expensive chewing gum I have ever purchased!
As we continued to walk, Laura asked, “How are we going to see the movie now? That was all we had to go to the movies with.” With that she smiled!
This was a rhetorical question from Laura. The look she gave me was in Lauraish style – it was a huge ‘Attaboy Dad! You’re catching on now!’
Oh yeah, we did end up going to the movies – our ‘movie’ was a couple of episodes of Scooby Doo. Well worth the investment.
“Love one another deeply… for love covers a multitude of sins!”
1 Peter 4:8