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Obstacles to Organic Outreach

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This past weekend, Faith Church wrapped up our “Follow Jesus Together” sermon series by looking at Organic Outreach – the seventh and final marker of spiritual growth discussed in Kevin and Sherry Harney’s book Organic Disciples. Although organic outreach is a stand alone marker, this practice  is actually woven throughout the other markers, as the Harneys point out that all of these spiritual rhythms not only help us become more like Jesus, but also lead us out into the world to reach people. That said, it may be the most difficult of the seven markers to implement in our lives. That observation led me to consider some of the common reasons we might resist following Jesus into organic outreach – and how the Bible itself can counter and disarm these excuses.

“It’s Not My Gift”
There are some people who clearly have gifts that make it easy for them to share their faith with others. This leads us to say that some people have the “gift” of evangelism whereas some do not. But what it interesting is that the only place in the Bible I have found that may talk about the “gift” of evangelism is Ephesians 4:11, which says “and he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (CSB). It doesn’t mention evangelism as a gift but rather the gift of “evangelists,” which could refer to a distinct group of people in the early church, including Philip in Acts 21:8. While it is unclear (and debated) whether such an office continues in the church today, my point does not require me to dig deep into that discussion since my goal is simply to say that we might overstate the idea of the “gift” of evangelism. Furthermore, Jesus does not just command those with a certain temperament or gift mix to share their faith as Matthew 28:19-20 shows Jesus telling all 11 of his disciples to go and “make disciples.”

“I Don’t Know How”
Somewhat related to the excuse of not having a gift of evangelism is the pretense that we have not been equipped to share our faith with others. There might be some truth behind this statement, as maybe we have never taken time to consider how we would explain the truth of the Christian faith to someone. That said, there are many different tools and resources available, so we really can’t use that excuse (one of my favorites is Two Ways to Live; the Harney’s also have a GOGO framework of explaining the Christian faith in Organic Disciples: God’s Love, Our Problem, God’s Solution, Our Response). That said, I think part of what stands behind this statement is a belief that there is only one correct way to share the gospel and that we need to do it the “right” way. But what I think is amazing when you read through the New Testament – and especially the book of Acts – is that you see no two people share the gospel in the exact same way, and no person shares it the exact same way every time. The communication of the gospel truth is shaped both by personality and by circumstances. This is why I think the language of “organic” outreach that the Harneys use is helpful; it is a reminder that sharing our faith comes through natural means within ourselves and also in the normal course of life. Outreach is not a “one size fits all” sort of thing, but rather something that is shaped by us. There is a certain core of truths that we need to share, but there are many ways to share it.

“No One Will Listen”
Another common excuse for not sharing our faith is the belief that it won’t make a difference because people may not listen to us. We might look at the trends of our world and see a general disinterest in spiritual discussions or a particular resistance to key truths of the Christian faith. But one thing that Jesus points out when he instructs his disciples is that there are people who will listen. When Jesus is in Samaria, he tells his disciples: “Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest” (John 4:35 CSB). In essence, he is telling them there were people ready to hear the message about Jesus. While one might think this is an isolated incident, referring to what was happening in that place at that time, we see a similar theme in Jesus’s teaching elsewhere. In Matthew 9:37-38 (CSB) we read : “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest’” (this statement is also recorded in Luke 10:2-3). Jesus effectively says the issue is not that people won’t listen, but that people won’t share! People may argue that there was an openness to Jesus in his time, but that it is no longer like that today. However, we should look at how people responded to Jesus – yes, some people believed, but many did not and rejected him. There is also a theme of God reassuring His people that they are not alone (1 Kings 19:14-18) and that God is calling people (Acts 18:10). Yes, not everyone will hear and believe (and even those who hear and believe will not necessarily endure, as we are reminded in Mark 4:1-20), but there are some that will. People will come to believe as we share the gospel, but they will not come to believe if we do share (Romans 10:14-17). And if we think that people will not listen to us because of our backgrounds or our own sinfulness, we need to remember who we see sharing their faith (with people believing) in the early church – it was not squeaky clean people or those who were super articulate, but those who met Jesus, shared what he had done, and invited others to discover it for themselves. 

“But I Might Get Rejected or Suffer”
We actually might be less concerned that people will not embrace the message we share with them and more that they might reject us for sharing it with them. But we are wise to remember these words of Jesus: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:24-26 CSB). We need to recognize that the message of Jesus will be rejected and his messengers may face reproaches from others for the content of this message. We also need to remember that Jesus is real and his message brings hope now and for all eternity. That hope is certainly for those we share it with, but also for us and thus can bring hope to us in whatever we might face in life and in death.

Follow Jesus, Not the Excuses
I’m sure there are plenty of other excuses that we give when we hear about the concept of “organic outreach.” But rather than focusing on them, let us instead focus upon Jesus and follow him. As we follow Jesus, we will be led into organic outreach since reaching out was at the heart of Jesus’s life: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 CSB). Jesus was sent into the world to reach people and now he sends us out – together – to do so as well as we follow him. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I also send you’” (John 20:21 CSB).

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