As a mother, my heart longs to see the needs of my children met. I wake up every morning to the sound of “mommy” being yelled from a crib. The rest of my day revolves around answering questions, disciplining rebellious hearts, and supplying the things that are necessary for their growth. My role in their life is to provide a safe place for them to make mistakes and at the same time supply them with the tools and resources they need to learn from them. Lately, I have found my conversations with God centered around one underlying question, “What is my job as a parent?” The answer came in a mental picture of God holding my hand as he led me on a journey.
The heart of outreach ministry is situationally very similar to the picture above. We often wake up in a place that tends to be comfortable and immediately hear the needs of those around us being screamed. We find ourselves stumbling as we try to respond. Just like a mother we pull every resource we have available and begin throwing them hoping that it will stick to someone. We see hungry children, rebellious toddlers, and those questioning teens surrounding us as we try to fix them. Many times at the end of the day we feel drained and utterly exhausted. We did everything WE could and yet still feel hopeless, almost as if we did nothing. That is where this journey with God begins.
The word compassion in the Greek is translated to Splagxnizomai which means “the inward parts of the body; the seat of affections.” To have compassion means to pull from the inward parts of our physical body. To dig so deep that we are moved from our inner seat of affection, our comfort. Outreach is hinged on the love we have foremost for God but also for the love we have for those around us. I can be a successful parent and can shower my children with things, but ultimately if my purpose and actions are not out of love I have missed the mark. I discipline my kids because I love them. I desire to rebuke and correct actions that I see, not because it makes me feel good, but because I want to see their worth increased. That is the foundation for a successful outreach ministry. I do not go into any situation thinking I can succeed on my own, nor do I believe I can personally meet every need. My job as a member of the body of Christ is to learn and hear the heart of my Father in a way that makes each situation personal. I must learn to love in a way that is from the depth of my being. From a place of pure compassion that replaces and pushes out the motivation and desire for my personal success.
For some people, the word outreach has a very delightful connotation. I have experienced that same emotional response when someone mentions going and serving those in need. For many Christians I would say that would be the initial response, let’s do something! While I am not saying that we shouldn’t have that attitude, I am proposing we first develop the heart of why we do what we do. I picture Jesus hanging on the cross. As he hangs next to a liar and thief, I see him being moved out of a place of true inward compassion. He doesn’t desire to see himself promoted to fame, or for his name to be mentioned, but he so passionately wants the men hanging next to him to get it. He wants them to be healed, so he lowers himself to a place of true humility by taking on what they deserve. He modeled the way love is meant to be lived. Jesus heard his Father, knew his voice, and was moved with compassion, because of that people were healed.
Remember that mother from earlier? Imagine instead that she is up dressed and ready for the day before her children are even awake. She has heard her Father’s voice for the day and is ready for what lies ahead. As she climbs the stairs to open her children’s bedroom door, she hears that same little voice yell “mommy.” Instead of being awoken and feeling rushed she is peaceful and ready to hear the need and facilitate that need being met. She doesn’t have to spastically throw things together and hope they work; she can gracefully operate in love and see her children respond out of her peace. That is a beautiful picture of community outreach. I love what Pastor Duane recently taught about the Messiah complex. It is so easy to feel like we are supposed to have everything that everyone needs. At times, it feels devastating if we don’t. It is so human to see broken children and feel like we have to fix them, but thank God for the great Comforter. I am called to be present. I am called to have a heart of compassion and to be willing to dig deep and be moved in such a way that I allow others the opportunity to hear the Father’s voice, but I am not supposed to be their Messiah.
Community outreach is living life with people. It at times is so uncomfortable; it is challenging and frustrating. Much like parenting it can be so draining, but it can also be full of the most beautiful moments. The moments when you see someone get it. The moment when your children first hear the voice of God. The moment when a broken woman first realizes her worth. The moment when a homeless child first feels loved. That is why we do what we do. It’s not so that we feel good, but so that we truly become the body of Christ made manifest in the world. We cannot help but see environments, families, and communities restored and revitalized with the Spirit of Christ.
The answer to my initial question came as I walked hand in hand in with my heavenly Father. What is my job as a parent? He loving whispered in my ear, “Serena, you are called to daily paint a picture of who I am to my children that surround you.” My ultimate goal as a parent is not to have the best behaved or well-mannered children (though that would be wonderful). My job is to make sure they know they are loved, healed, and complete; they are made in the image of Christ. My job as a Christian is to ensure each and every individual I meet in poverty stricken areas, on a mission trip, at my job, and even at church hears that same message. In Matthew 5:9 scripture says “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The heart of God concerning outreach is personal. First, you must be willing; you must allow yourself the opportunity to be healed. It is imperative that you realize that you are just as important as those you are ministering to. Second, know your identity. When you know who you are, no situation or individual can steal your joy. Third, do not feel like you have to have everything under control. It is not your job to fix everyone. It is your job to listen to the Holy Spirit and speak over his children; you are not called to be their Messiah. And last, remember that doing things out of your own strength only makes you more exhausted and stressed. Ministry shouldn’t be a burden you carry. You are called to be a peacemaker.
My challenge to you is to find a place to start serving. Allow yourself to be stretched; grow and invest in someone else’s life. It is the most beautiful place to be. Community outreach is successful when those being served begin to serve. It is our honor to help start that process.