We have to start letting go of some of our long-held ideas about church and ministry. Especially when it comes to evangelism and outreach.
But it’s not always easy.
Here’s a true story that illustrates that reality. (I’ve kept some details vague, and adjusted others slightly to protect the identity of the pastor and church in question.)
The Backyard BBQ
Recently, I was talking with a small church pastor who was upset at his deacons.
"I have five deacons," he told me. "And they help out everywhere but at the church. One of them builds houses for Habitat for Humanity, the others volunteer at the senior center, the homeless shelter, the food bank, and as an assistant coach for the high school football team. That last one makes me especially angry."
"Why is that?” I asked.
“Well, we have no youth group. On youth nights my wife and I set everything up, then we hope someone shows up. Usually it’s only two or three kids. Sometimes none. But this deacon spends a lot of time with teenagers outside the church. In fact, he has a huge backyard, so two or three times a year he has all the football players over for a BBQ. Since all the players go, all the cheerleaders go, and soon half the high school is at his house, but our church doesn’t have a youth group.”
“It sounds to me like your church does have a youth group,” I told him. “It’s in his backyard."
"You don't get what I'm saying," the pastor responded. "Those kids don't come to our church, just to his backyard BBQs."
“No, I heard you," I responded, as gently as I could. "But you're not getting what I'm saying. You need to call him and volunteer to help out at the next BBQ. Then, when you show up, don’t bring a big ol’ Bible or wear your clerical collar. It’s a small town. They all know who you are. Help flip burgers and toss a ball around with the kids.
“After a couple parties, you can earn their trust. If you do, some day one of the kids will pull you aside to tell you his parents are about to get a divorce, or that she's been cutting her arms with a razor blade, and you’re the only pastor they know that they can tell these things to.
“Your deacon’s BBQs are giving you a chance to meet and minister to kids who would never come to a church. Don’t get upset about it, be there for it!