If you’ve spent much time in the American Church, you’ve definitely heard the word. Churches create programs, classes and schools teaching it. Books upon books have been written about it—which is why I feel terribly conflicted writing on the topic. So much noise, and yet so little outreach.
Why? Why is it that the thought of sharing the Good News of Jesus’ love, life, death and resurrection fractures most Christians to their core? Why is it that so many of us feel so un-empowered to do it?
Well, there are a lot of reasons, all well worth exploring. However, I’m not here to answer them or give each a solution. Instead, I’d like to suggest one fundamental shift. I suggest that, as Christians, we begin to think of outreach as a state of being.
Hang with me for a second.
I know that most churches and ministries organize outreach “events” and that the very way we teach on outreach is all based upon direct actions within the world. I am not suggesting that we take away from or nullify any of that. What I am proposing is simply a new framework, a new lens.
What if followers of Jesus began to think of outreach as a lifestyle? A way of moving, existing and inhabiting our space in this world? What if outreach was about developing what Proverbs 22:9 calls, “a bountiful eye?” An eye that looks and sees the dignity and worth and brokenness and need in each person we encounter? What if outreach is about living with what the Psalmist calls in Psalm 40:6, “an open ear?” Ears that are constantly pressed to heaven to hear the heart of God for our neighbors, co-workers and the grocery store cashier?
What if outreach was really about being in love?
If you’ve been in love, you know that it actually alters the way you act, think, feel and make decisions. People notice the spring in your step or the way your mouth turns up at the corner. The way you seem wistful and hopeful and happy. People notice and they ask you. You answer them beautifully. And they listen. Because that state of being—being in love—is actually captivating to the people around you. Beyond that, you usually lose your fear of what others think. And let’s be honest, in the West, that’s really the biggest obstacle to sharing one’s faith.
What if outreach was that simple?
What if the problem isn’t that you don’t know how or that you haven’t been taught or that there aren’t enough events or opportunities. What if the problem is that you aren’t in love?
It hurts my own heart to read those words to myself. The reality is that Jesus commanded His followers to share the Gospel in both word and deed. It’s a command. But check out what 1 John 5:3 said to the early church (and to us): “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”
Remind yourself, remind your soul: His commandments are not burdensome. Outreach is not burdensome. Yes, it may be awkward and difficult and risky and require sacrifice, but it is not burdensome. It is not an obligatory religious to-do. It is a joy. It is a privilege. It is an honor to open your mouth and life and testify to the love and justice of God as displayed on the cross and in the empty tomb.
There are a lot of helpful books and tools and programs and methods and practices out there. And they’re good—because outreach does take intentionality and sacrifice. There’s a lot to consider and learn. But at the bottom of it all, we have to be captivated, fascinated and convinced in the depths of who we are that Jesus is worth being shared. We have to be in love.
If it’s burdensome, if fear is too loud, if you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time, comfort, convenience and image, and if you can’t find a way to do it—fall in love again. Get filled with wonder again. Be astounded by Jesus’ sacrifice again. Let the goodness and mercy of God fill you with awe again. I promise, it will alter something about how you live (not just do) outreach.