The Importance of Advent and Christmas:

Unique Ideas for Outreach

by Steve Dunn

The Advent and Christmas season are exciting and inspiring times in the life of most churches.  It is also one of prime times of the year when God seems to have the world’s attention–even if Christ is squeezed into all the other activities. People “go to church” during the season but not generally because they are seeking a Savior.  People tend to go to church during Advent and Christmas for family reasons or to recapture some warm past memories of their childhood.

Many churches focus on one of two things during this time: (1) Outreach projects, focusing on giving to the least and the last, and (2) Christmas programs to help inspire people with the eternal message of Christmas.  Both are admirable aims.

But there are some other aspects of this season that create primary ministry opportunities.  Here are a few:

It is a season of grief. The loss of a loved one in the previous year often has its first painful visitation during the family time that is Christmas. How about providing some opportunities for grief care or grief groups open to the public?

It is a season of loneliness.  Broken relationships or distance from children, for example, make the Christmas season a lonely journey; especially for those in nursing homes.  Instead if simply Christmas caroling, what about a series of evenings or afternoons where people go in pairs to visit residents who have no church or no family and just spend time with them?

It is a season of family stress.  People often dread the holidays because the fault lines in relationships begin appearing. What about an evening of hot chocolate or warm cider offered to the community staffed by a good Christian family counselor with suggestions and strategies for managing that relational stress?

All three of these outreaches create the potential for building redemptive relationships with seekers and the unchurched after the decorations come down and the Christmas carols stop filling the air.


Core Values are the foundation of a church’s identity and the measure for its ministry. They are the non-negotiables that shape your vision and determine your strategy. Core values should be simply expressed and passionately embraced.
And core values need to be shared.

The Church of God of Landisville, that I had the privilege to lead for 11 years, expressed their core values in this way:

The Church of God of Landisville Core Values:
Core values are the absolutes that guide and govern our ministry.

• The Authority of the Bible as God’s Word
• Prayer
• God’s view of human life in which all people matter
• Evangelism that calls people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ
• Worship that brings people into Christ’s presence
• Sacrificial servant-hood
• Spiritual growth that is intentional and disciplined
• All believers using their spiritual gifts to demonstrate God’s Love
• Unity that is true to the Word of God
• Kingdom-focused ministry

What do we mean by “shared.” Simply put, the people of the church (not just the staff and leaders) are committed to those values, as well.

Why is this important? Values determine our behaviors.  For our churches to be fruitful and faithful for the Kingdom, we need to behave in a manner that is consistent with the core values of the Kingdom.  But a church where only the leaders are committed to these values will always be pulled between the desires of the people and the Will of God.  And if the church in general does not share these values, then new leaders coming from the church will have to “won” to the vision that those values create.

Churches should periodically revisit those core values (1) to be sure that those values are embraced (2) to be sure those values enable the church to do the ministry it is called to do (3) to educate the Body at the large in those values.

– Steve Dunn


This is a great post by Michael Kelley on the blog Forward Progress:

“I wish there were no rules.”

That’s what my 7-year-old said at dinner the other night when he was confronted (again) with the answer of “no” for something he wanted to do (I think it involved eating peas). He’s living under the mindset right now that the rules are there to cramp his style. They deny him freedom to do what he really wants to do and if all these restraints were lifted, his life would be much happier.

This is a lie ingrained into our hearts.

“I love the rules.”

That’s what the 4-year-old sitting across from him said with a glint of pride in her eye. She lives to please authority right now, and does not think of herself as sinful in any way, shape or form. Obeying fills her with pride, and she can’t imagine that anything in her heart might need to be changed because she is very proficient at following the rules. If, in fact, there were more and more rules she would be much happier because she would know exactly what the minimum was expected of her and she could perform accordingly.

This is a lie ingrained into our hearts.

Licentiousness and legalism sitting there together at the kitchen table, one believing that the rules deny him happiness and one believing that the rules justify her.

And the gospel is for both.

Thank God the gospel frees us from the lie that sin is freedom and happiness and moves us toward the joy of obedience and intimacy. And thank God the gospel frees us from the lie that we are “okay” and makes us into the humble people that are “okay” because of Christ alone.

And thank God that the gospel is still for a dad who from one day to another needs grace to love both of these kids in good – and hard – ways.


Text: Ephesians 5:21

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

It was late in the afternoon.  I had stopped at the grocery store on the way home from the church to pick up some items Dianne needed to prepare dinner for our family.  In line in front of me was a mother, well-dressed, probably a professional of some sort.  With her were two children, each with something electronic in their hands. Each looking the image of bored affluence.

It was still early enough that a retired man was bagging groceries.  It was late enough in his shift, however, that he was obviously tired; but still trying to conscientiously do his work.  Mom observed his condition and so she said to her children, “Help the man with the groceries.”

The girl just rolled her eyes in noncompliance and the boy responded, “That’s his job” and went back to his video game.

Mom paused a moment and then said to the bagger, “Step away, sir.  My kids will finish bagging those groceries.”  I wanted to cheer this mother’s actions out loud.  She knew pampered arrogance when she saw it and she was not going to let it take any deeper root in her kids.

On the essential doctrines of the New Testament in found in Ephesians 5:21.  It is called mutual submission.  It is found at a pivot point between teaching Jews and Gentiles to work together in the kingdom of God and specific instructions about dealing with our relationships in Christ-like ways.  Unity does not come from agreeing to be agreeable or committing to working together for a common goal.  The unity Paul describes goes much, much deeper.

In some translations submission is translated serve.  The lesson is clear, the heart of God is a servant’s heart.  And the motivation and measure for mutual submission is a direct outgrowth not from being agreeable or cooperative, but out of reverence for Christ.  Mutual submission is a direct outgrowth of the work of Christ found in Philippians 2.1-11.  “If we have any encouragement in Christ,”  i.e., if what Christ has done for you makes any difference in your life “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (verse 4).  Our attitude should mirror that of Christ, “who being in the very nature God … made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (verse 6).

Our sense of entitlement, to deserving service and feeling exempt from serving is a foundation for sin in human relationships.  The corrective?  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

© 2011 by Stephen L Dunn
This post first appeared May 3, 2011 on one of
my other blogs THRIVING IN CHRIST


The Two Kinds of People in Your Church


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

In Heart 2 Heart, my church’s support/recovery group ministry, we often use a mountain-climbing metaphor to describe the role our facilitators play.  In that ministry, we have support groups for many different kinds of issues and pains, ranging from divorce to grief to various forms of addiction, etc.  One of our requirements for our facilitators is that he/she must have actually come through a particular pain or issue in order to be a group leader for that issue.  Simply put, he/she must have experienced the “God of all comfort” in that respect in order to, in turn, comfort others by helping escort them down their own road to recovery.

If you think about it, it just makes sense.  As you are climbing that mountain, you can listen to the guy on the ground below you who has never been up that mountain or you can listen to the guy above you who has just come up that same climb.  Who would you choose?

God’s community is set up that same way.  There are seasons in our lives when we need more help than usual with a particular spiritual step, and there are seasons when we make ourselves available to others in a sacrificial way.  Often, those seasons even overlap and we find ourselves in both positions simultaneously.  In the support group arena, it is always a significant moment in the recovery journey when a person stops focusing inwardly and begins to ask how he/she can turn outward and begin to help others on this same journey.

So what does this all mean for you and for your church?  On any given Sunday morning, at your local church, you will find two kinds of people…(1) people who are there to be fed and ministered to, and (2) people who are there to minister to others.  You may have found that you are capable of being in either group, depending on the season in your life.  I certainly have found myself in each group at one time or another.

I believe that your balance between the two (i.e., the time spent outwardly focused versus the time spent inwardly focused) is a function of spiritual maturity.  For those of us who have had to climb a few mountains, if we have learned anything at all from those experiences and if we have been the recipient of God’s grace and comfort through those times, we should be outwardly focused and helping others who are going through the same “stuff”.  We should be.  That is the script God wrote.

So, the question is this: when your church gathers this coming Sunday, which group will you be in?

© Blake Coffee
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by Stephen L. Dunn

Churches who are vision-focused and mission-disciplined are the most likely to be churches whose ministry is fruitful in dynamic and irresistible ways.  There is a spiritual energy to such churches  that serves as a conduit of God’s grace from a deep well of God’s transforming love.  There is a supernatural reality at work that draws the church forward in life-changing ministry.  It is exciting to be a part of such a church and exhilarating to be one its or pastors or leaders.

The Holy Spirit could and would sustain such a movement except for two factors that emerge from our human nature.  We tend to go it alone in too many things and give little time or attention to our relationships as Christians.  The excuse is often in such a church, “We are busy in the work of the Lord.’ The reality is that as we grow busier we become disconnected from the Body itself robbing one another of the daily support, encouragement, and accountability necessary for human beings to participate in a supernatural work.  And as new people are “added” we often do not take the relational time to assimilate them into the Body, i.e., to connect them. New people who do not become connected early often find the back door.  Long-termers who have grown disconnected drift away.

The other is commitment.  We are not seeking members in this supernatural ministry but fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.  Busy churches, caught up in the energy of a dynamic work, often equate numbers and activity as a measure of success instead of making authentic disciples. Disciples who pray, who serve, who learn from God’s Word, who give, who sacrifice.

Churches that seek to ride the wave of the Spirit over the long haul need to make a commitment to the systems or structures that help embed the DNA on connection and commitment into its people.  Otherwise, God will be leading but we will follow only to a point …

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

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From the archives of Steve Bowen’s blog NEXT WAVE:

Why does the church Exist?

The Church is God’s great idea. It is a place where people can discover a new life living a new way. The people of the early church were “the called out ones”, “disciples”, and followers of the “Way”. In the early church there was an atmosphere which included a sense of awe, togetherness, unselfishness, unity, power, community, and a strong sense of mission. The resulting fruit?… The Lord added to the church day by day those being saved…and the church found favor with all the people.

Our mission and focus is all important. It defines why we exist and why we are here. Emil Bruner in his book God’s Forgetful Pilgrims, Recalling the Church To Its Reason For Being states,’The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning. Terry Virgo, leader of New Frontiers Ministry in the U.K. once said, ‘When we lose sight of the great commission we lose sight of our great prophetic purpose in life.’ Both statements are extremely important. When any church focuses upon any thing less than the Great Commission as it’s primary purpose for existence it will eventually loose it’s purposeful mission. That church will quickly forget why it is blessed in the first place.

Many people need to recover their sense of mission. Disillusioned Charismatics in particular, who were seeking the great dream of a painless, prosperous Christianity have realized the dream was merely a vapor without substance. In their pursuit to find fulfillment through the accumulation of things, and seeking to become successful they have become inward and blessing focused.

God wants to get the attention of the church. His purpose… that the church might seek Him and discover His passion for our dismembered world.

It is interesting to view church movements from a distance. While some seek Him for personal blessing, others seek Him for the lost. They are mission/value-driven. Some of the fastest-growing churches in the USA are in this category. They are doing all they can to reach everyone they can. They are focused upon the main thing. Everything else follows.

For example Pastor Rick Warren… with the 15,000 member Saddleback Church… author of the 1,000,000 best seller The Purpose Driven Church… He encourages leaders to recapture their purpose, by defining their mission…A church committed to the great commandment and to the great commission will grow a great church.

80% of his church growth is by first-time believers. As one man stated, “We cannot continue to be a traditional church and expect non-believers to want to be a part of it. They won’t. They don’t want our religion. They want to experience the reality of life-changing answers for life’s problems and the God of that reality.”

The questions Warren asks in his book provoke thought…What drives your church? What is it’s purpose in life? What is it’s mission? Does your church have a sense of mission? Or is it a church adrift?

Sometimes getting back to our foundations defines our business. As Christians and church leaders we need to continually ask ourselves, what business are we in? and how is business? Sometimes it is facing the hard questions. We need to discover our present reality in order to move forward.

One year during a losing season Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi gathered the team together and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” This is getting back to basics. I think our great Coach would like to gather His team together, point to our world and say, ‘Church this is your mission.’ It really does matter where you focus your aim. It will set the course of your life.

Where are you aiming? Inward or outward? What is your purpose? Why do you exist?

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