~by Brad Forbes~
Outreach—what does that mean? I pondered that while sitting in the Denver airport watching people flowing by. Some were slowly walking toward their departure gate, others running to make a connection, still others standing in line to rebook a missed flight. When I am sitting in an airport watching people go by, what does outreach mean to me?
I pulled out my phone to see what the dictionary had to say about the word outreach. The definition that most closely matched my thoughts read, “Providing services to people who might not otherwise have access to those services.” Is that the outreach I am looking for?
When I was a kid, some church members talked about “lay activities.” This term was specific to non-pastors and could have included many different programs. However, I most often remember people using these words to refer to their Sabbath afternoon nap—I knew that wasn’t outreach. Then the name changed to “personal ministries.” This allowed for everyone to participate in his or her own personal ministry, which sounded good. Those ministries could include going door-to-door handing out literature, praying with people, or giving Bible studies. Is that outreach?
In Acts the early Christians were reported to be witnessing, or “bearing witness,” about Jesus. While there are stories of apostles who preached from the steps of the town hall it seems that most Christians just shared with those who they were around every day. Early Christians showed others what Jesus had done in their lives by sharing what they owned with others. This community grew so large that deacons were appointed to make sure everyone was included.
Ellen White said that Jesus’ way of doing outreach was to go where people were, show that He was concerned about them, and take care of their physical needs. Once Jesus gained their confidence He invited them to follow Him.
So then, what about outreach? I think the dictionary may be right. Allow me to paraphrase the dictionary’s definition of outreach:
Provide a witness about Jesus to people who may not otherwise encounter Him.
What does that mean to you? Are you mingling by going to the basketball games of your work associates’ children, participating in a block party, being active in your neighborhood association, or assisting a neighbor with a home repair project? How are you witnessing when the hot election year subjects of immigration, taxation, gay marriage, and health care are discussed? Are you connecting by being the person to call when someone needs help?
I’m flying out of the Lincoln airport this afternoon. Unlike the Denver airport, this airport does not have masses of people rushing by. It’s a small airport and I have made friends with many people who work there. I wonder, will Bonnie be working at the check-in counter? Will Jack be taking my luggage? Which TSA crew will be doing the screening? And now the bigger question—will they see Jesus in me? Not only today when the weather is good and everything is on time, but also when my flight is cancelled or my luggage lost? Will I be ready to listen when I ask them, “How’s it going?” and the answer is, “Not so great, my father has cancer…”
Jesus needs witnesses in 2012. He needs people who will mingle, show concern for people, and care for their physical needs. And yes, He also needs people to hand out literature and give Bible studies. Are you ready to reach out, to do outreach? In this issue of Outlook you’ll read stories and find resources that can encourage you to share what Jesus has done in your life.
Brad Forbes is the director of AdventSource, a resource center located in Lincoln, Nebraska.