Monday, May 10, 2010

South: A case study in going beyond outreach.

In his book The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch recounts the story of struggle in his church to effectively reach and disciple the people in his community (pp 28 - 48).


South Melbourne Restoration Community was a 125-year-old church that in spite of its rich history had been declining rapidly during the last generation. Alan was a young seminary graduate when he and his wife were called to serve there. They were inexperienced, and SMRC was a desperate church contemplating an end to its storied existence.


Some time before Alan’s call to SMRC, God had already been working in the life of a completely unrelated, perpetually arrested drug dealer called George. This man found Jesus one day in the jail cell. When he got out, he shared the good news with his brother. Together, they made a list of everyone they knew. He and his brother then methodically met with everyone on their list and shared the new life they had found in Jesus. The process was messy, but in half a year’s time, they led 50 people to Christ. This included a young woman named Debra, with whom Alan would eventually marry. George’s disciples formed a wild Christian community, and Alan, an eager seminary student, began to help.


When Alan finished seminary, he was called to pastor South Melborne Church of Christ. Many in that wild band of Jesus followers soon joined this church as well. They infused a lot of life and a bit of chaos into that old church. The historic members of the church struggled through the transition, but God established them as one body. The result was a new personality and the church transitioned over the next five years into South Melbourne Restoration Community.


I am providing this background as an introduction, because this church went through a number of phases in its development. Some were effective in reaching people who are not reached by traditional church culture and some were not. It is helpful to see where the story begins. In the next post about South, I will continue to relate Alan’s story and look at why some things worked and why some things didn’t.


Before getting into that, notice how simple a process it was for George to lead 50 to Christ. He was a very new Christian with an extensive social network among the lost. He shared with his family right away, and then partnered with his brother (like the two by two instructions of Jesus) to share with everyone he knew. Since he trusted Jesus outside of the traditional church context, he was freed up just to obey what he was learning from scripture as best he could. Like I mentioned before, it was messy. But it was real.


We never see churches where a pair of its members lead 50 people to the Lord in six months. I believe one of the reasons for that is that fear of bad doctrine, or bad practice or simple fear of losing control causes churches to stifle the obedience of new christians precisely when they would have the greatest impact in evangelism.

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