the shape of leadership

Reaching Out and Raising Up

How this simple ministry philosophy can help your church go deep and wide

Chris Railey on January 12, 2018


Do you ever have to make a decision between two things, but you just can’t decide? Should I buy the red shirt or the gray shirt? Should I get my wife the earrings or the necklace? Should I order pizza or wings?

 If you’re like me, the answer is to just get both! I don’t like choosing between two good things, and when it comes to ministry philosophy, we shouldn’t have to.

The effectiveness of our ministry often begins with how we think about it. The philosophy behind our decisions is perhaps the No. 1 factor in what we deem most important, the emphasis we give to each task, the people we hire and the congregation we build. If our ministry philosophy is so vital, then it deserves a lot of attention.

There’s no one ministry philosophy that’s better than any other. Just like the mission statement of your church, it should fit your context and skill set. You may have one that’s identical to that of another pastor, or yours may be unique to you. Whatever it is, make sure it is effective for you. If it’s not, consider changing it.

A ministry philosophy that I’ve held in the past is this one: Reach out, and raise up. I think it covers a big portion of your evangelism and discipleship efforts, two things that should be at the forefront of your ministry. I’ve seen it put into action and succeed. And I think it’s adaptable to almost any setting. I want to take some time to expand on that today.

What’s the Problem?

One job of your ministry philosophy is to address problems that are inherent to ministry. If the problem in your church is organization, your philosophy needs to account for clear chains of command and accountability. If the problem in your community is poverty, your philosophy should address the ways God meets our material needs.

So what problem does “reaching out and raising up” answer? In the last few years, I’ve seen a tension between going deep or going wide. Do you put all your resources behind reaching the lost? Or should you focus primarily on discipling the believers you already have?

The problem is we take an either/or approach to this question. If we focus entirely on evangelizing the lost far and wide, then how are we equipping them once they’ve found Jesus? The Great Commission is not to make converts or decisions, but to make disciples.

However, if we shift all the way over toward helping our members go deep in their faith without providing a way to invest and invite the lost, witnessing to them and leading them to Christ, then we’re creating halfway disciples.

The faulty thinking behind this either/or approach is that we miss the mark on what people really need. We believe that unbelievers are looking for some easy path to salvation, that they will respond to simple answers to tough questions and that they will be turned off when we go deep.

But we also think that disciples need to be hammered with high standards in order to grow. Neither of those things is true. And neither is very helpful.

A Better Approach

Instead of going either deep or wide, what if you could do both at the same time? What if you were able to reach out to new believers while also raising up new disciples? When I think of this simple ministry philosophy, I can envision how it will answer this problem for so many of our churches.

The Great Commission is not to make converts or decisions, but to make disciples.

Reach out to the edges. Find the farthest edges of the reach of your church, and go there. Find the places that are being neglected by traditional means, by social services in your city, by other churches or ministries, and go there.

Who in your city is the furthest from God? What do they look like? What do they do? What are their vices, their addictions and hang-ups, their objections to God or excuses for not coming to church? Now find ways to reach out as far as you can.

That may mean going the extra mile. It may require more work or resources. It may mean opening a soup kitchen, staffing a homeless shelter or providing counseling. It may also require a shift in mindset, though. When those on the edges start coming to your church, will your people be ready to embrace them?

When Jesus sat down to dinner one day with a Pharisee, no one expected a woman who had a reputation as a sinful person (perhaps a prostitute) to show up and bathe His feet (Luke 7:36-50). The guests there that day weren’t ready for her, but Jesus was.

Jesus accepted the woman and even praised her faith. But the other guests there had a tough time looking past their own high standards to what she really needed.

Raise the bar. Set the standards high, and then empower your people to meet them. Never apologize for the values and virtues you hold. After all, Jesus said the cost of discipleship is high (Luke 14:27).

Raising the bar is not about being religious. It’s not about how you can fulfill God’s commands by sheer force of will. It’s about surrendering all to Jesus.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said something that always makes me a bit nervous: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfection is not reached by lowering the bar but by giving all to Jesus.

Filling in the Gaps

How do these two concepts work together? It would seem there would be lots of gaps. Well, you’re right! But we have to fill in the gaps with grace.

When we are reaching to the edges, unbelievers from complicated backgrounds will need lots of grace to see Jesus’ love. Resist the urge to judge or to rush them along to maturity. Think of your own journey with Jesus, and show the same grace He gave you.

And when we’re raising the bar for others, they’re likely to slip up or miss the mark from time to time. A good coach will show grace when it’s needed to help them reach the next level. Grace helps them see God’s power in their weakness rather than trying to rely on their own strengths.

How are you doing at forming your own ministry philosophy? How might your church become better, healthier if you reach to the edges and raise the bar? Maybe it will only take a few adjustments to the discipleship pathways you already have in place. Or it may take a more radical approach.

Whichever you need to do, I pray you have the determination to make those changes.


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