By N. Doug Gamble, Pastor of Mission Partnerships, Crossroads Fellowship, Raleigh, NC
Untapped outreach possibilities lie just beyond the church doors. Some go unseen because they aren’t well publicized. Many are overlooked because – let’s be honest – we church leaders focus too much on filling the volunteer positions in our own programs. We ought to think more precisely about kingdom work. Most of it doesn’t happen on the church campus.
At Crossroads Fellowship, we’ve learned to pay close attention to the difference between transactional good deeds and transformational involvement. A transaction is an encounter. We give somebody something and say, “See you later.” It might be groceries from a food pantry or a weekly carry-out to the homeless.
These blessings certainly are important – and we do plenty of them at Crossroads – but there’s so much more.
During the past ten years as missions pastor, I have intentionally accumulated in-depth knowledge of the many longitudinal needs in my community and how to connect my people to organizations that serve those needs. These outreaches have places for volunteers who are willing to give whatever precious time and energy they can spare to long-term endeavors that lead to transformation of the leadership, the organization and the community.
Again, don’t confuse this with showing up for a monthly let-me-help-you moment. This is commitment to helping an outreach walk through life with folks who may not be “your type” and who may show minimal progress toward where you’d like them to be. They are imperfect, like the rest of us.
An Example of Transformational Outreach
Food drives and pantries are a popular service of schools, public agencies and churches. So let’s look at how a church could tie a food pantry into transformational outreach. Suppose a member named Lawrence tells me he wants to start a pantry. As the missions pastor, I may tell him the church budget can’t fund the effort, and that we can’t spend time announcing it during our Sunday morning services. Everybody has a project to announce.
But I will connect Lawrence to other individuals, agencies or ministries that may already be distributing food. We don’t need our own food pantry to control and brag about. We are doing kingdom work. The boundary lines extend beyond the church property.
Lawrence may be a leader whose gifts and abilities need to be utilized. In any case, I will help him determine what the congregation’s role in the possible outreach might be. I probably will also recommend special training to prepare him for moving forward. If he’s requesting support that we are able to give, I will probably make the training mandatory.
Unfortunately, I know many Lone Rangers in the world of outreach who do not understand how much they need training to properly lead, request support, stay focused and humble, make optimal use of volunteers, and cooperate and partner with other leaders and outreaches.
Partnership Is Key
In Lawrence’s case, Crossroads’ angle would be to automatically consider how his idea could plug into transformational action and help satisfy needs in a deep, long-term way. We might help him think of food needs along with day care for single and married parents who are trying to reestablish themselves; financial classes for bringing order to their spending habits; group meetings on healthy relationships; and possibly professional counseling regarding unwanted pregnancy.
Local organizations already serving these populations could multiply Lawrence’s efforts and show him the ropes to holistic solutions.
That’s more than a food pantry, but if Lawrence truly wants the congregation’s support, he needs to show an understanding of the bigger picture of human need. Other leaders and I will help him figure out the actual nature and intensity of his interest, and where he should start. We want him to experience the joy of serving in a transformative way.
Crossroads leadership has invested considerable time in learning about the many different agencies and outreaches in our community. We’ve also devoted ourselves to establishing good relationships with them and finding out which ones we can or should partner with.
The people we touch may never attend our fellowship. Some do join, but our goal is to bless our city without demanding a commitment to respond in a certain way.
No Turning Back
As our congregation continues getting a handle on transformational outreach, we find more meaning in our serving than when we had a pastor-centered approach to “doing church.” Our leadership helps servant-minded people connect to kingdom work in such a way that they find their primary service to God in serving the people in their communities, rather than in attending church services or holding typical paid or volunteer church positions.
That’s a tough pill for a lot of pastors to swallow, but part of the payoff is the way our efforts are expanding. We’re attracting competent leaders and servants who align with our desire to bless our city. Church leaders seek us out to help them do what we’re doing, just as we learned from others.
There’s no turning back from the shift that is still transforming our leadership, our organization, and our community as we partner in efforts to address addiction, loneliness, depression, marital problems, incarceration, job preparation, immigrant issues, study habits, human trafficking, guidance in running a business and so much more. Blessing our city is part of our response to the Great Commission. It’s harder and messier than what we did before, and it’s exactly what we believe we ought to be doing.
Doug Gamble is missions pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh, NC. He trains pastors and other leaders to build volunteer pools and partnerships that more effectively meet long-term needs in their communities. Contact him at douggamble.org.