Providence Reaches Out
The Outreach Philosophy of Providence-Reformed Presbyterian Church
Behind any effective venture there must be an underlying understanding of what we are about. What are the guiding principles that inform our efforts? While it is important to have our sails open to catch the wind (Spirit), we also need a rudder to provide direction. This is what we would call our philosophy of ministry. In terms of outreach, it consists of two parts: our philosophy of growth, and our philosophy of ministry.
Part One: Our Philosophy of Growth
Our ideas about the growth of the church come, in part, as a result of reflection about the Church Growth Movement and the ideas it has generated. In light of that, we are compelled to ask: "What does the Bible say about the growth of the Church?" In examining it we find the following.
1. There is more than one type of growth that should be experienced in the church
spiritual growth [Acts 6:7 I Pt. 2:2 11 Pt. 3:18 II Thes. 1:3 Heb. 6:1 Jn. 15:1 f. Eph. 4 etc.]
growth in influence [Acts 19:17f. 23f.]
numerical growth [ Matthew 13:31f. Acts 2:41, 47 5:14, etc.]
Application: There needs to be a balance among these various concerns in our planning and programs.
2. God, is concerned with growth including numerical growth.
Evidence for this is to be seen in virtually every segment of Scripture: (1) the creation mandates: `be fruitful and multiply', (2) the prophets who often spoke of the kingdom as a mountain that came to fill the earth, (3) the parables of Jesus, (4) Luke's account of the growth of the early church.
On the one hand, numerical growth may be a sign of God's blessing. There is, therefore, an appropriate concern for numbers in our thinking about the life of the church.
On the other hand, while numerical growth may be a sign of God's blessing, lack of it is not necessarily an indication of the absence of His favor.
Not all Churches will experience dramatic growth. God intends for there to be diversity within the body of Christ . . . including diversity in substance and size. It is not His intention that all churches be BIG. There is an important place for the small and midsized church.
Not all growth is healthy
Appearances are deceptive; much that appears to be healthy (due to size, volume, etc.) is not. Tumors are a form of growth but are not healthy. The Bible speaks of churches that appear to be healthy by every visible indication but amount to little more than `wood, hay, and stubble.
3. In the New Testament, numbers are mentioned as the result of God's blessing, not as goals that were reached.
The emphasis is on the working of the Holy Spirit. Numbers are secondary and incidental. Consider the approach of the apostles as they engaged in the work of evangelism. They did not go into a new area and say: "We need to get beyond the 200 barrier!" They were simply faithful in bearing witness to Christ, and God chose to bless their efforts.
Application: we should avoid thinking in terms of quotas and numerical goal-setting.
4. Our first priority is with the growth of the kingdom and glory of God
Rather than being primarily concerned with increasing the membership and budget in our own little corner of the kingdom, our first priority should be the expansion of the kingdom itself. Our guiding principle should be: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things will be added to you as well." (This applies to churches as well as individuals!)
The tendency is for us to engage in a program of building our own little empire, an ecclesiastical tower of Babel ('We will be bigger than the church down the street') . . . a monument to the ego of the pastor, the leadership, and members of the whole church! Growth in the church invisible will be mirrored by growth in the institutional church though not always our particular fellowship.
Application: Our priority should be to see people come to a saving knowledge of Christ, build them up in their faith, and letting God grow our particular church as He sees fit.
5. In seeking to 'grow' the church, the end does not justify the means'
We must guard against an uncritical pragmatism. The tendency is to seek out techniques that 'work' often borrowed from the world itself. While there is much to be learned from those around us, and while flexibility is an essential quality in leadership, where principles are involved, they must not be compromised for the sake of an increase in numbers.
Application: We must resist the temptation to abandon fundamental principals for practices simply because we think they may 'work' in increasing the size of our fellowship.
Conclusion Balance is important as we reflect on these matters. There are two extremes we must avoid.
# 1 of defining success solely in terms of out-ward criteria (numbers), often resulting in compromise in an effort to achieve it.
# 2 of defining success solely in terms of spiritual growth, resulting in the tendency toward spiritual pride or a martyr mentality when we do not see significant growth, and of making excuses . . . using 'faithfulness' as a mask for laziness or undue inflexibility on our part.
Part Two: Philosophy of Ministry
The second area of our philosophy has to do with our approach to ministry. While the heart of Christian service and witness comes at a personal level, through casual interaction with friends, relatives, co-workers, etc, it is imperative that the church be proactive in initiating programs that will provide the context for the presentation of the Gospel. In doing so there are several concepts that should govern our whole approach to ministry.
First there should, be diversity in the types of programs we initiate. A healthy program of outreach should involve a balance between several different types of activity that complement each other to create a wholistic ministry. This arises from the diversity of types of needs that confront us.
Secondly there should be balance in our overall program as we strive to meet those diverse needs.
Thirdly we need to be focused in our efforts, simply because we cannot be everywhere and do everything.
Beginning with these principles, we would develop our program around six general areas of concern.
area one: general exposure
The church needs exposure; people need to know that we are here!
Many that live or work in our area are not aware that we even exist. We need to overcome this by consciously attempting to bring attention to ourselves in ways that are appropriate.
area two: domestic evangelism
We need to find ways to present the claims of Christ to our neighbors.
The concern here is with those who live in the vicinity of our church our immediate neighbors.
area three: cross-cultural evangelism
We need to have a Witness to others who are not our immediate neighbors; who are separated, not only by geography, but by class, race, nationality, etc.
Census studies indicate that those who have in the past constituted the 'majority' are now in the minority! To say that the fields are 'white unto harvest' may involve a bit of irony they are anything but white! If our faith is to impact our culture, we must attempt to reach those whose ethnic background differs from our own.
Regarding internationals, they are often more receptive to the Gospel than those raised in the United States, and in many cases they, in turn, have opportunity to witness to others in their homeland.
area four: common grace testimony & ministries of mercy
The church, as salt and light, is to have a prophetic voice in speaking to the culture, as well as reaching out to those who are suffering.
The Gospel is concerned with the salvation of souls in anticipation of the coming judgment, but it is also concerned to bring all of life under the lordship of Christ. We sometimes speak of God's common grace as having a bearing on life in the present age. It is this which makes life bearable in a sin-cursed world. This too is a by-product of the redemptive work of Christ, and Christians are often the agents through which God administers these mercies. Thus, the church itself may well serve as a witness to the world in this capacity.
area five: follow-up on visitors
We need to maintain close contact with those who have attended our services.
area Six: Equipping and Sending
It is the churchs responsibility to equip the saints for witness and service, and to seek the opportunity for them to do so.
Providence Reformed Home Page