Mission is God's idea - it’s his bus and he’s the driver. His beautiful plan is to invite his children to join him. When we hop on board we might know the destination and have a great route planned ourselves... but we need to let him drive. Striving to accomplish God's goals without him moves us away from our identity as his children.
So what does this look like when we come to outreach activities? How can we ensure what we are doing is responsive to the Lord’s leading? How can we know that we did what he said? How can we recognize his hand at work in the midst of our own?
There are 4 steps we take at different point of the Outreach process which aim to keep us connecting to God’s heart:
1. Listen to God
3. Heart Prep
1) Listen to God (John 10:4)
Take time to connect with the Father, to discern what he is doing and what he wants us to do. (For some practical principles on hearing God’s voice, click here).
We are not focusing here on leaders taking this time to listen to God in their planning – we are assuming that as a bottom line. What we see the need for, which can easily be omitted, is building this “room to listen” into the experience of the whole group as they prepare. This means that to some extent, leaders must be ready to make space for what God brings to the group.
God’s Word has already revealed much. Acts of love, generosity and kindness are always his will, as are feeding the hungry and caring for the isolated. They don’t really require a fresh affirmation from heaven. We don’t want to be so anxious hear from God that we are paralysed into inaction. However, there should be room to listen to God and connect with his heart for those we are going to serve: a chance to let him draw our attention to his perspective on details, strategies, people or even the big picture.
As you become more confident as a family or group in hearing and obeying together, you can take bigger risks and ask God bigger questions. For example, here are two different approaches:
1. “We are going to make hampers for families in need. Let’s ask God how he wants us to encourage them in the cards we are going to send with the hampers.”
2. “There are some families who might not have such a great Christmas – let’s ask God how he feels about that. Is he asking us to do anything?”
Both are wonderful. A is more discrete in its expected outcome, B is more open ended. When mobilizing larger groups you may need to create more A–type opportunities to listen to God, otherwise preparation and organization could be challenging! With smaller groups, groups that meet regularly or have journeyed together for longer, you can more easily pursue B-type adventures!
The great thing about both approaches is that they not only make room to connect with the Initiator of our activities, but also allow each participant a greater sense of ownership and engagement too. The ultimate aim is to empower each child, teen or adult to hear and obey God’s leading and help them learn what that looks like when we do it together.
2) Be Equipped
Receive teaching, learn skills, do practical preparation.
There are further opportunities to invite the Holy Spirit to lead us through teaching and ministry times. Some young people may be keen to serve but unsure of their own walk with God. Others may struggle with fear or misconceptions which hold them back. It’s important to give time for them to reflect and meet with God before they “go”, (though we don’t make this a rule - some young people encounter God most while serving and come back from the frontline on fire! Read more here).
Some of the subjects we might teach on before outreach are:
Father Heart of God
The Great Commission
Fear of the Lord/ Fear of Man
Hearing God’s voice
Servanthood/ Giving up rights
Even skill learning and practical preparation are opportunities to allow our hearts to be stirred by God. Whether learning to do “prophetic face painting”, making gifts for “random acts of kindness” and praying for the recipients, practicing sharing your testimony or prayerfully marking out the pitch for a game of football, there are ways to informally but intentionally make room for the Holy Spirit to guide and empower.
3) Heart Preparation (Psalm 24:3&4)
Take time to get right with God and with each other, confess sins and receive forgiveness.
We do this very simply, usually just before launching into outreach activities. Everyone gathers together and someone will invite the Holy Spirit to search our hearts. We ask him to bring to mind any thoughts, attitudes, words or actions that have hurt him or others. There is then time for repentance – either quietly with the Lord, or if it involves others, going to them and saying sorry or extending forgiveness.
We thank God for making us clean and receive the Holy Spirit who fills us with his love and power.
This “rubber hits the road” moment reminds us of our personal and corporate need for Jesus – if the Cross is not real in our lives and relationships we are not living the good news; our public actions and words lose authority.
4) Debrief Reflections:
-What did God do? (John 5:19)
In the busyness of outreach it can be easy to focus on the nitty gritty of our activities. While it is important to debrief our strategies and approaches, it is also valuable to step back and reflect on what God was doing. There may be snatches of conversation, comments, reactions and impressions to be shared which together create a picture of what the Holy Spirit was up to.
-“Lord, how did we bring joy to your heart?” (Zeph 3:17)
This is an important question we take time to ask the Lord during debrief. On a week-long outreach we ask it daily. The Father’s affirmation is so important and protects us from striving and comparison. As well as outreach activities, we have seen him highlight attitudes, quiet choices, relaxed moments of laughter and determined toilet cleaning that have brought him joy!
- Thank God (Luke 17:15-19)
Simple. You may be aware of many things God was doing, or not sure yet, but getting to partner with God is his mission is incredible - gratitude is the natural and Biblical response!