THE IMPORTANCE OF ADVENT

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.

DO YOU WANT TO REACH YOUR UNCHURCHED NEIGHBORS?

Who are your neighbors?

Increasingly traditional churches cannot answer that question with any specificity.  Some congregations are reverse commuters, returning Sundays and perhaps Wednesdays to gather and worship in a community in which they no longer live.  Other churches live in a bubble of doctrinal isolation (i.e., we do not want to tainted by the world and therefore have little contact) or inward-focused fellowship, spending almost 100% of their time with other church people.  Some congregations are even afraid of their neighbors.  As a result no attempt is made to reach those unchurched neighbors except the billboard or sign out front.

Who are our neighbors?  The scriptures make it very plain – they are the people for whom Christ died and who Christ loves.  Some of them are connected to churches, some are not.  Some are Christians, some are not.  Some are church drop-outs.  Some have absolutely no Christian roots and have barely a clue as to what you do behind closed doors on Sunday morning.

If we think of those neighbors at all, we generalize them as the lost and then act as if they’re not really lost by largely ignoring them.

Do you want to reach your unchurched neighbors?  That is an essential question for every congregation that claims to be an obedient and faithful part of the Body of Christ.

If you truly want to reach your unchurched neighbors, then there some realities you must come to grips with.

1. They are not your enemies, nuisances, nor your project.  These are three perceptions that will drive your neighbors away or create barriers across which they will never pass.  They may not like your faith nor approve of it, but if you see them as your enemies and approach them as such, they will fight back.  They are not persons who get in the way of your ministry. They are people who need your ministry.  Reaching them is far more important than all the church suppers, small group Bible studies, and projects your church may pour its energy into.  They are not a project, a number to be counted, a victory to be one.  They are people, created in the image of God, loved and respected because Christ died for them.  They are people who need a relationship with Jesus Christ and with you, the Body.

2. They have needs that you must first understand and then respond to in the name of Christ.  Too many of us do not know our neighbors well enough to know their needs, let alone address those needs.  We often assume we know them, but that usually leads to assuming they are like us and just need to be persuaded to behave as such.  If you don’t build relationships, listen, and seek to understand–you will not reach your neighbors effectively.

3.  They are have values and dreams.  You may think those values to be sinful or their dreams to be shallow; but you do not build a redemptive relationship with people who you do not respect in some way.

There’s more to be said on this subject, but for now; know that if you want to reach your unchurched neighbors, you will have to begin thinking in new ways.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

MODERN DISCIPLESHIP: PREPARING FOR EVACUATION RATHER THAN OCCUPATION

In his blog THE WORLD VIEW CHURCH, Michael Craven has written:

It is all too evident that biblical discipleship is either absent or woefully inadequate to producing any tangible fruit, much less real freedom in Christ. Thus too many within the body are mired in sin management rather than freedom from it, while others remain shackled by past wounds and sinful choices, and far too many are discouraged by the elusiveness of peace that Christ promised.

There are a number of reasons why I think we have come to neglect disciple making. Foremost may be the reduction of the gospel to merely the personal plan of salvation. By excluding the kingdom and its present implications from the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus taught and preached, Christians are left with a gospel whose only real implication occurs when you die: you get to go to heaven! Unfortunately, by reducing the gospel to nothing more than the means of achieving eternal security, there is no impetus for bearing good works here and now or bringing forth the kingdom. Under this paradigm, loving your neighbors is only worthwhile if “you get them saved.” Defending righteousness, opposing injustice, helping the poor, sick, and suffering, and so on, is meaningful only if it directly leads people to faith in Christ. Everything else that Christ commanded his church to do is reprioritized under the preeminent goal of “saving souls.”

Of course the church is called to proclaim the message of salvation through Christ, but it is also called to do many other things, which together achieve and bear witness to God’s whole redemptive purpose. From the standpoint of discipleship, if all that matters is an individual’s eternal (i.e., future) security, what else is there to know about the Christian life? As a result, discipleship is reduced to teaching Christians nothing more than how to share the personal plan of salvation. I submit that a century of this reductionism has rendered the American evangelical church among the most theologically uninformed, radically individualized, and socially irrelevant in history.

Read more I’d appreciate your feedback-Steve

THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND MOVED INTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Advent has begun. It is season of the church year that is often lost in the rush to Christmas. The season when the church focuses on the expectation of the Messiah.  When in the midst of a people living in deep darkness, a voice begins crying “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

A lot of churches use this season to draw attention to themselves, to their presence in the community.  Christmas carolers and acts of kindness in the malls. Food drives for the poor and the needy.  Festive decorations adorning their facilities and musical extravaganzas in their sanctuaries and auditoriums.  Christmas mailers to everyone in their zip code and block parties for the children of the neighborhood.

All very good things.

But here’s an important question.  What are you planning to do as a church that will continue to bless and transform your neighborhood after the Advent and Christmas season have passed into memory?  You may add to the festive spirit of the season.  You may even pontificate that Jesus is the reason for the season so people won’t let that truth get lost. But what is your plan for ministering amidst the hopes and fears of the New Year?

Because you’re going to be around after Christmas, aren’t you? Will your neighbors? Will they be blessed by it?