Where Do You Begin To Reach Your Community? One Word: Family—Thoughts from Kevin and Sherry Harney on Organic Outreach

I know of a couple who was incredibly active in their church—serving, giving, leading in several roles. The wife was the paid custodian of the church, but she also served on the decorating and hospitality committees and in the library. The husband was a deacon and served on a number of other committees on the board. Together they served as junior high youth directors—for 12 years!

This couple were model servants, not merely because of the amount of their activity, but their passion for serving and leading for the sake of reaching out into the community with the grace and love of God. They’re the couple every pastor would like to clone a hundred times over!

But something happened in their family that caused them to take a second look at their ministry involvement. Their teenage daughter began to have problems in school and her own spiritual life. They were very concerned about some of her activity and so they did what many Christian parents are often hesitant to do: they dropped their ministry involvement in order to focus their time and attention on their daughter. All of it.

You see they realized that in order to minister to the community they had to prioritize reaching and taking care of their own family.

Kevin G. Harney, Sherry Harney, evangelismThis couple beautifully illustrates the truth that Kevin and Sherry Harney emphasize in their new book, Organic Outreach for Families, an incredibly practical guide to help ordinary families make an impact right where God has placed them. In their opening section, they argue that “God calls us to reach our family with the love, grace, and message of Jesus Christ before we turn our attention to our neighbors and community.” (p. 18)

They continue: “Something is very wrong if we reach our neighbors with the love of Jesus but our children feel forgotten and marginalized. We have confused our priorities if we invest more time in our church than we do in our own children. Our first priority as parents is to love, teach, and lead our children toward authentic and life-changing relationship with the Savior.” (p. 18)

How true.

But how often do we pastors, particularly family pastors, explicitly emphasize this need? To care for our house and family before God’s House and Family?

For a few years now, Kevin Harney has helped lots of ordinary people organically reach out to their community with God’s love and grace through his Organic Outreach series. From my perspective this new book is the best of the three—probably because his wife Sherry was part of the project! Their basic point is this: organic outreach, the kind of outreach that helps people find rescue in Jesus Christ and puts lives back together again in Him, starts in the home by becoming a “lighthouse home,” the kind of home that “guides people into a safe harbor.” (p. 13)

At the start, they urge people who are passionate about serving and leading gospel outreach in the community to begin by living the gospel in their home. Which means that parents’ children see a vibrant friendship with Jesus. That parents are passionate for the Bible and God’s truth. That they actively cultivate a place of grace.

It sort of reminds me of Jesus’ condemnation the pharisees, who cleaned the outside of the cup and dish, but inside was a different story (Matt. 23:25). How can families expect to reach outside of the family with love and grace, if the inside of the family is a different story?

As a pastor I have been convicted to more intentionally teach this in my own church, that organic outreach begins in the home. Not only cultivating that home as a lighthouse home where outside people are drawn in to the safe harbor of Christ’s love, but especially cultivating a safe harbor for the inside. As Sherry makes plain, “the most important foundation is that God is an active part of our life,” meaning our home and family life. “When Jesus rules as Lord, the Holy Spirit is present, and the love of the Father is plain to see, then we can additional steps to make our home a safe haven.” (p. 72)

When we rally parents to serve on committees and create new programs and go into the community bearing God’s love, do we begin with the family as the foundation for outreach? Are we helping families create “lighthouse homes” by first cultivating safe harbors inside their four walls?

The couple I mentioned took a year off from any ministry activity so that they could focus on helping their daughter. They realized they needed to create a safe harbor for their family in order to be a safe harbor for others. Their daughter was better for it. So was their community.

Pastors, may this be the foundation upon which we do outreach as churches—healthy homes filled to the brim with God’s love and grace, overflowing to our neighborhoods.

One of the things I love about this book are the activities at the end of each chapter to drill deeper and put feet to the ideas. Here’s one to try with your family or one to use as you develop leaders in your church (p.28):

Plan a family meal and make the topic of discussion these three questions:

  1. How are the love and grace of Jesus being experienced inside the walls of our home?
  2. How could we show the grace of Jesus more fully as we live with each other in our home?
  3. When people outside our home look at our family, in what ways can they see the presence and love of Jesus?

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Jeremy Bouma is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology; and writes about faith, life, and everything in between at www.jeremybouma.com.

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