THE EXTERNALLY FOCUSED CHURCH
Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson
Group, Loveland, CO, 2004, 224 pp. ISBN 0-7644-2740-7
Rusaw is pastor of LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado. Swanson works for Leadership Network. Based largely on the experience of LifeBridge, the authors explain how a church can focus on serving its community. This book follows in the train of Robert Lewis of Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, (see The Church of Irresistible Influence).
“Our world is still open to a gospel it can hear and see. The real gospel is two-sided—it’s truth and proof!” (Robert Lewis, Foreword)
“The early church served. Service is, and should be, the identifying mark of Christians and the church.” (11) [Perhaps service is one of the identifying marks of love, which Francis Shaeffer called the mark of a Christian. dlm]
“One of the most effective ways to reach people with the message of Jesus Christ today is through real and relevant acts of service. Honest, compassionated service can restore credibility to the crucial message we have to share. To tell the truth, we must show the truth.” (11)
“How we spend out money and our time exposes what truly matters to us.” (12)
The church has become more concerned with telling than showing. We have forgotten to show God’s love. (13)
“Internally focused churches concentrate on getting people into the church and generating activity there.” (16)
Externally focused “churches look for ways to be useful to their communities, to be a part of their hopes and dreams. They build bridges to their communities instead of walls around themselves.” They measure “the spiritual and societal effects they are having on the communities around them.” (17)
Focus on two groups: those on the margins and the city. (18-20)
“Being externally focused is about the perspective and purpose of the church more than any program....” “These churches have concluded that it’s really not ‘church’ if it’s not engaged in the life of the community through ministry and service to others.” “[It is] woven into every aspect of church life.” (24) [I suggest the same thinking applies to both people unlike us nearby and people unlike us far away, i.e., missions. dlm]
“It is only when the church is mixed into the very life and conversation of the city that it can be an effective force for change.” (25)
Ministering and serving are normal expressions of Christian living. Christians grow best when they are serving and giving themselves away. (26)
Two strategies: 1) identify the needs of the community and start ministries to meet the needs, 2) partner with existing ministries or human-service agencies that are meeting needs in the community. (29-30)
“Power is important. But focus is everything.” (36)
The Great Commission describes the fruit. Matthew 28:19-20. (36)
Too often our people—our greatest resource—are underutilized and we feel we have done our part by donating money. Previously, LifeBridge created large special events as their main outreach strategy. Events take lots of money and staff time and they are internally focused, asking the community to come to us. (37-39)
“We decided to come alongside schools, service organizations, and other nonprofits (religious and secular) to see how we could help them.” (41)
“We often used the image of ‘crossing the street.’ For us...that literally meant crossing the street from our church into the neighborhoods and city streets across the highway.” “For us, serving in the community meant getting to know our community.” (45)
Community transformation “lies at the intersection of the needs and dreams of the city or community, the mandates and desires of God, and the calling and capacity of the church.” (56) “God has always used his people to bring hope and health to a community.” (58)
“When people come to faith, they can immediately be involved in serving others. From the get-go, they can understand that being a Christian isn’t an isolated experience but a life lived in community and service.” (62)
“Service is always about meeting others’ needs or helping others succeed.” “Service is the mark of a Christian. ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...taking the very nature of a servant’ (Philippians 2:5-7).” (64)
“It takes between twelve and twenty positive bumps [refreshing encounters with the church] before people come to Christ.” (67, quoting Dave Workman, lead pastor of Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati)
“So much good can be done apart from money.” “The poor need relationships more than they need money. In the inner city, there’s a lot of free stuff to be had. What the poor need is people who care.” (quoting Vicki Baird, Cincinnati Vineyard Community Church) But sometimes there is no substitute for cash. (68)
One church asks their members to give 5% of their incomes to ministries outside the church! (72)
“Good nutrition alone cannot make a person healthy. Good Bible teaching alone is insufficient for spiritual maturity. People need exercise... We grow by serving others.” (76) “Getting people involved in service is much easier than getting them involved in activities specifically designed to deepen their faith.” “Of course, it is possible to serve without growing spiritually....” “Serving puts people in real-world situations where their faith is on the line.” (77) [I would have appreciated more emphasis on ‘nutrition.’ Many churches do much social work but with little spiritual transformation in either those ministering or those being ministered to. Dlm]
“We do nothing and give to nothing where our people are not involved. We tell our congregation, ‘If you give money to a ministry, then we want you to get involved in that ministry.’” (83 quoting Kenton Beshore, Mariners Church)
“We in the church have often defined ministry too narrowly. In doing so, we have limited the opportunities for meaningful ministry.” “Ministry is simply ‘meeting another’s need with the resources God has given to you.’” (86)
“Wouldn’t it be great if on any given Sunday you could point randomly to any person in your congregation and say, ‘Please tell us about your ministry,’ and every person...would come forth with a description of how God is using him or her in ministry to others?” (90)
“The church grows through relationships.” (93) “Relationship is key to building bridges into the community.” (94)
“First, make sure that the church and the community organization both clearly understand each other’s needs and expectations. Second, begin slowly, if possible. Third, ensure that one person with passion for the project is responsible for it.” “Finally, no matter what hurdles you face along the way, remain committed to finishing what you start!” (96)
“One rule of thumb is that churches should come only to serve and bless, not to control.” “Always ask the organizations in your community, ‘How can we help you?’ and don’t worry about who gets the credit.” (101)
“Watch for opportunities to share God’s grace, but don’t force the message.” “We serve for two reasons: to meet basic needs and to create positive relationships.” (103)
Community leaders generally don’t trust Christians and the church doesn’t have a reputation for being very helpful. (105)
“The best way to create relationships is to enter the world of those you seek to know, rather than waiting for them to enter yours.” Discover ways to be useful. (106)
“The early Christians lived in such a way that caused the world to stand up and take notice, for they had a distinctive lifestyle that could not be ignored.” (113)
“The Christian faith, for the most part, has been reduced to a philosophy—principles and tenets that we believe and can defend but don’t necessarily practice. It is our actions toward others that separate Christianity from philosophy. It is tying loving God to loving our neighbors as ourselves that puts legs to our faith.” (116)
“We need an apologetic for faith that can be observed more than postulated and debated.” “It’s not so much a matter of sharing information as it sharing love.” (118-19)
“Good works can be the bridge or the road, but they are not the saving message that crosses that bridge or travels that road. Good works are the complement but never the substitute for good news.” “We must figure out ways to be intentional about evangelism—sharing the good news.” “If we think it is necessary for people to understand the gospel, then we’ve got to use words.” (120-21) [I would have liked some additional explanation of how they do it and how they ensure that it gets done. Dlm]
“In serving others, salvation is our ultimate motive but not our ulterior motive. People sniff out motives pretty quickly.” (122, quoting Sam Williams)
How to tell the good news:
1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Ask permission to tell your story. 3. Ask permission to tell God’s story: the plan of salvation. (123-24)
Casting the Vision. Chapter 8 is a good chapter on vision, summarizing much of what has been written on the topic. (145-154)
Vision Problems (from Mark Scott, Ozark Christian College) (149-51)
· Nearsighted – too focused on daily stuff
· Farsighted – all vision and no action
· Tunnel Vision – so focused on their own situation they miss surrounding opportunities
· Walleyed – Caught up in the latest fad
· Lazy Eye – Great vision but lack of effort yields mediocre results
“An external focus is not a tactic or a strategy. It is a transformation.” (152)
The core values of LifeBridge: outreach, spiritual development, worship, and involvement. “Each ministry department develops plans, events, and activities that reflect our values.” (152)
“We see community outreach as an important part of our overall mission. So each ministry department is encouraged to find ways to make community outreach a part of its programming and plans.” (153)
Assessing the Needs of Your Community.
1. Ask the people you are serving to identify their needs and dreams.
2. Conduct or use existing research on your community. Get latest information regarding income, educational levels, demographics, and employment statistics from formal census research at http://factfinder.census.gov/
3. Recognize the power of existing relationships. Often you already have a ‘champion’ in the church that is involved in a ministry on his or her own.
4. Look and listen. Observe. (159-163)
Six categories of needs (per Raymond Bakke): physical, spiritual/moral, social/relational, emotional, education, training/mentoring. (165)
Types of people: poor, children, aged, widows/single parents, orphans, prisoners, sick/disabled, aliens/immigrants. (166)
You can make a chart with types of people across the top and needs down the side and fill in the blanks to list service opportunities. (166)
“Whatever your focus, aim for the double benefit of changing the lives of those who are serving as well as of those who are being served.” (167)
Some ideas for narrowing your selections:
1. Draw a geographical radius.
2. Establish some ‘engagement criteria,’ such as
a. Does this put us in relationship with those we seek to help or others who are serving?
b. Is this ministry or agency willing to work with us?
c. Will this allow us to minister holistically?
d. Do we have people ready, willing, and able?
e. Will this result in changed lives? (168)
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” (173, quoting Winston Churchill)
“When hiring staff, make certain the job and their passions are intertwined, that they are being paid to do something they were born to do. It’s too big and too important just to be a job.” (176)
“Define the minimum qualifications for a volunteer.” (177)
“Churches that seek to mobilize every person must also define ministry in a broad enough way to encompass the skills, experiences, giftedness, passions, and relationships of every person in the church.” (178)
We have to figure out ways for the volunteers to get “paid” –ways that are meaningful to the volunteers. Pay is whatever motivates people. (179)
Provide four things to young people in the church: (182)
1. a mentor to guide him or her
2. a teacher to develop skills
3. a judge to evaluate progress, and
4. an encourager to cheer them on.
[This might be a good model for following up people who go on mission trips! Dlm]
“Our vision is only as big as that for which we are willing to raise money.” (185)
“Working with what already exists [meaning organizations already working in service ministries] may be a church’s most underleveraged opportunity.” (192)
Measure inputs: the resources you put toward your objectives.
Measure outputs: the results of your efforts (194)
“It’s not what you add to your life, it’s what you abandon that will make the difference.” (203)
“The best way to engage the hearts of high-capacity people is by engaging their minds around big challenges and ideas.” (209)
“It’s not about size; it’s about impact.” (214)
[Service is the outworking of love and love draws people to oneself and to Jesus. However, it is possible to serve from other motives—a sense of duty, to be part of a group, to meet others’ expectations, etc.—and fail to develop relationships and express love. I suppose some kinds of service must be much more effective at reaching people for Christ than others. dlm]
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