The second in a series of articles focusing on outreach and evangelism, written by members of the NJ District's Outreach Council. This month's article is written by the Rev. Michael Dunne, from Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Montville, NJ.
Many of our congregations in the NJ district are facing a similar problem. For most congregations, it is a twofold problem of aging members and diminishing resources. However, that does not excuse us from the mission of the church to bring the love of Christ through the Gospel to the lost.
More than ever it is increasingly difficult to reach out to the lost within our communities in a meaningful way. There too few hands, feet and dollars to make any kind of significant impact within our communities. Not to mention many of those feet need walkers and canes just to get around. So, it comes down to the question of what can we do with the resources we have to offer. The answer to that question may very well be, Don’t Go It Alone.
We are not the only denomination experiencing diminishing numbers and resources and finding it difficult to reach out with the love of Christ to our communities. Instead of having 2 or 3 people working on an outreach event wouldn’t be nice to have 15 or 20? Here at Holy Spirit in Montville, we have been participating with other Christians in a new program called, "Every One in Action for the Community” (EAC).
We meet every month along with other local congregations to serve the community in some meaningful way. There are usually 2 or 3 from our congregation who participate, along with as many as 30 other Christians. At one of our service gatherings we made 400 sandwiches for the Homeless Bus, a ministry here in Montville! At another we put together packets with information and locations of the different Houses of Worship for the local Welcome Wagon. This month EAC will participate in a One Montville event on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As part of this event the local houses of worship will be open to the public. The Montville Reformed Church will host the EAC member churches and we will be displaying the Martin Luther 500th Anniversary Exhibit.
There is strength in numbers. More people and more financial resources equals more people being reached. Don’t Go It Alone. There are other congregations just like yours who want to reach out to their communities in a meaningful way.
The first in a series of articles focusing on outreach and evangelism, written by members of the NJ District's Outreach Council.
Outreach. Evangelism. The Great Commission.
These words summarize our life as forgiven sinners who believe Jesus is risen from the dead. Outreach and words like it make clear that our life as is not about being comfortable. Is that not one of our hearts' most likely "golden calf" idols - to be comfortable?
When I was invited to write a short reflection on this topic of outreach, I couldn't help but start with the question I believe we all would agree is a good one to consider: "but what does Jesus say?" Members of King of Kings in Mountain Lakes probably knew that question was coming!
Jesus shared God's Word from the Hebrew Scriptures throughout His earthly ministry. So I would like to follow in my Savior's footsteps in the use of God's Word; specifically the Confirmation verse I was given by my pastor in 8th grade, Pastor Timothy Nickel.
"Commit your way to the LORD. Trust in Him and He will act." - Psalm 37:5
The Way of the LORD is that Way of Salvation He offers through Cross, Empty Tomb, Promises fulfilled and finished by Christ Jesus Alone. To be committed to the way of the LORD is to recognize that this is the uncomfortable lifestyle of reaching out. Outreach places God above ourselves. Outreach replaces "golden calf chasing" insulation with time spent befriending some of our seven billion neighbors next door. Outreach is reveling in and sharing the simple, joyous words, "God loves you, He said so, through Jesus, who gave Himself up for you and your eternal life."
When I was invited to write about outreach, namely, the lifestyle of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ - I wanted to challenge each of us forgiven sinners to consider who that individual or family in our neighborhood we're not comfortable conversing with yet. This life is not about us or our being comfortable. This life is a gift entrusted to us by God to share with the world what He has been sharing from the Beginning of Creation: Himself, His Promises and Everything He desires for us as His reconciled people.
What does outreach mean to me? It means that the eternal life of Mr. J, Mr. L, childhood friends of mine who walked away from Christianity is more precious than a temporary and hollow life of "being comfortable." Your life is priceless because Jesus said so. The life of your neighbor, yes, the one you're not comfortable conversing with...yet, is priceless, because Jesus said so as He went to the Cross to save them and you from your sins!
You know what keeps me sane and grounded as a Christian? The love of Jesus Christ for all people. Seriously...His love for all nations, all tribes, all tongues. To loosely quote Chris Tomlin, "how can I keep from singing His praise?! How can I ever say enough?! How amazing is His love!" This outreach is what God washed us clean and changed our names from "enemy" to "God's own child" - that they may see how much Jesus loves them as they see how much God has forgiven us in Jesus' Name. This outreach is what we are about while still on earth, because Jesus said so (see Matthew 28:18-20, Isaiah 49:6, Genesis 3:15 and Ezekiel 18 for starters).
In Ezekiel 18, God says He takes pleasure in the death of no one, but rather, He desires all sinful humanity to turn back to Him and live. Is that not more valuable than the golden calf of "being comfortable"? Of course it is! May the peace that surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus as you revel in this life on earth God entrusts to you. You are given this priceless time to reach out, evangelize and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable. But as Jesus assures us, that's not really not the point when He is risen from the Dead and He is coming again...soon and very soon. Until He returns, may we live to glorify His Way as we share His Name, His Good News with our seven billion neighbors, starting with our own street.
God bless you and work mightily through you as you reach out to your neighbor next door in this Advent Season. Alleluia and Amen!
Rev. Benjamin A. Dolby
King of Kings Lutheran Church, Mountain Lakes, NJ
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