The characters in the stories from the Bible really were just ordinary people just like each of us. Considering that, have you ever tried to imagine yourself in the place of the characters in the Bible? Try to imagine what it might have been like to be the boy who gave his lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish to Jesus, not knowing what He was going to do with it, only to see Him multiply it to feed over 5000 people.
God still today invites us to be a part of the equation! As we partner with ministries who serve the unreached, help the impoverished, strengthen the persecuted church, and rescue those trapped in human trafficking, we are anticipating that God will multiply what we offer to Him to do much more than we could ever do alone.
We prioritize both demonstrating the Gospel in deed and proclaiming the Gospel in word. Our initiatives and projects are designed to demonstrate God’s love as a crucial part of the message, but they are also designed to build relationships with people who are far from God so He can draw them to himself.
This is crucially important: local outreach is not our public relations project. It’s not our way of creating goodwill in the community or forging partnerships with the city, though of course we want both of those things! At the core, local outreach is about taking the Gospel to the people God commanded us to go to (everyone) who live in places we don’t (homeless shelters, jails, etc).
Deed-centric ministry runs the risk of communicating (even unintentionally) that God primarily cares that people have more stuff, not that they have a relationship with Him. Materialism isn’t limited to rich people, and many service programs simply produce very poor materialists. God may use the pain of homelessness or prison to call a person to himself, and we should never obscure God by helping them to overcome their earthly problem without also pointing to the eternal solution.
We do this because we are imitating Jesus, who as He preached also healed the sick and fed the hungry as signs of a Kingdom that is not of this world.
If you read through the book of Acts, you’ll notice that for the early church sending was the role of the church as a body, and going was the role of the individual members. Everybody did both! Every Christ follower is called to make disciples of all nations. The question is no longer if we are called, only where and how. The call to follow him is the call to be sent and to send. In the Bible we find no gap between the call to follow Jesus and the call to engage in mission.
You could think of local outreach projects as platforms that allow you to cross paths with people you otherwise might never meet. If we believe that God created every person in our city to worship him and our lives don’t normally intersect, then we’ve got to figure out how go to them. Often the most natural way to do this is by working together on a project that addresses a felt need in our community.