Partnering with Rough-Edged Loners to Reach the Community

By N. Doug Gamble

Back when Doug was driving cool cars and proving what a great leader he was without anyone’s help, he didn’t know how little he was actually accomplishing. Now he teaches leaders how to develop volunteers and utilize “lone rangers” to get things done the right way — together, and acting on other people’s good ideas.

The world of faith-based and nonprofit outreach is dotted with ambitious believers I call rough-edged rangers. Like other lone rangers, they get disgusted with mediocre involvement of the church – or they see an unmet need – and decide to try their own hand at reaching part of their zip code.

Lone rangers are difficult enough for a pastor to appreciate, but rough-edged rangers are much more so. They distinguish themselves by the following negative characteristics:

−They’re too comfortable working alone

−They like to call their own shots while expecting churches to contribute to their cause

−They don’t realize that sustainable outreach requires partnership

−They’re clumsy in approaching pastors for support

The rough-edged loner and the church need each other but are separated by bad impressions and misunderstandings. The loner has new energy and determination, along with hardheadedness and unhealthy independence. The church has resources – experience, connections, facilities and money – and an inclination to dismiss the loner as an irritating insurgent or out of synch “with what our church is doing.” Kingdom-minded pastors look more kindly and patiently toward these folks when they see the gold in the rock.

It has been my privilege to help churches and lone rangers understand their value to each other. Here are some tips to help your leadership team guide the rough-edged loners in forming smart partnerships with them, when appropriate, to reach your community together.

Building Capacity

This is one of the rough-edged loners’ greatest needs. They don’t grasp that a leader’s real goal is to equip and empower believers and volunteers. Loners run into all kinds of problems just because they assume they should or can accomplish their goals alone.

Their frustration and failure mount as they continue attempting to do everything themselves, instead of building capacity by finding, recruiting and training volunteers. Although most pastors also struggle to build capacity, they usually know enough to help rough-edged rangers improve in this area. Furthermore, kingdom-minded pastors are not threatened when a new nonprofit leader recruits some of their own members. God often uses rough-edged leaders to draw new volunteers into ministry who have not been engaged by the local church’s opportunities.

Of course, the rough edges keep these loners at a distance.  They unintentionally make themselves hard to deal with, hard to help. They isolate themselves from leaders who could help them increase their impact on the community. Kingdom-minded pastors look past the prickly points and imagine what God might be trying to do.

Solution. Acknowledge the loner’s idea. We pastors don’t own all the good ideas. If we’re fortunate, we get most of them from our flock. Rough-edged rangers need to hear that their ideas are probably good – maybe even really good. Discuss possible weaknesses along with ways to shore them up. If you have limited interest in the outreach idea, say so in a friendly way but be sure to show interest in learning about it.

Aligning the Cause with the Context

Rough-edged loners struggle to communicate their causes and needs to the people who could serve them or partner with them. Loners can be aggressive and self-righteous when pitching their causes. They are indignant that we don’t immediately see things the way they do. They are so bad at seeing themselves and their passions in context that they can sound as though they cared for nothing but their own concerns. Yet they want us to get excited and fund them!

Solution. Kindly and straightforwardly explain what you know about what is going on in your congregation and community. Is anyone doing some or all of what the loner wants to do? Has anyone expressed an interest in being involved in a new outreach? Who do you know – or who do you know who possibly knows – who might want to partner with the loner’s cause? Bring these people into the conversation or take the loner to them.

You don’t have to become personally involved in the outreach, but don’t turn rough-edged rangers away. They are leaders-in-the-making with passion, vision, and energy. They need guidance and evidence of interest. It’s easy for us to turn them away. Let’s help them transition from abrasive loners to brothers and sisters who do their work with a respectful awareness of how they fit into whatever else the church family is doing.

Use human service-language when discussing the outreach idea. It may sound unspiritual and too objective to the person who’s itching to get started, but it’s good language for the body of Christ.  Using it avoids “holy talk” such as, “I prayed about it and God showed me,” or “I just really feel the Lord’s leading.” When leaders want commitment to their ideas, objectivity is necessary.

Sustaining the Outreach

An ongoing vision needs fuel. That means “people capacity” and money, which can translate into buildings, programs, staff, salaries, equipment and materials. Rough-edged rangers need to be patient enough to sit still and think through their ideas very thoroughly. Do they really have a vision at this time, or do they have an undefined passion?

Solution. Face the facts openly. The trap into which churches and rough-edged loners fall is the failure to appreciate that they need each other. Do not merely tolerate each other. Learn together what there is to appreciate in the other. Neither of you are a finished work of God. He intends for you both to help build His kingdom – not yours, which we pastors and the loners are often guilty of doing.

Many less-than-optimal nonprofits are started because rough-edged rangers and pastors don’t understand how to form effective partnerships. They’ve already decided it’s impossible. If you’re willing, you can learn how. The tips I’ve shared will go a long way. You can help the loner operate as a social creature and a careful planner who, with the help of others, brings good ideas to fruition.


Doug_GambleDoug Gamble is pastor of mission partnerships at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh, NC. He teaches leaders how to form partnerships that meet long-term needs in their zip code. Contact him at douggamble.org.