When Jesus Haunts Your Halloween(via @davidcmathis)

When Jesus haunts our Halloween, we pour in the extra energy and creativity to capitalize on this opportunity to meet new neighbors and go deep with the old — whether we’re ushering our kids from house to house or leaving our lights on and giving out the best candy.

Florida cop buys $100 in groceries for woman caught shoplifting food(via @ABC11_WTVD) There’s a sermon illustration here. I just know it.

“I grabbed my debit card, ran back into the store and bought things that would sustain her for a week or so and when I walked out she saw that I had the cart of groceries and she burst out in tears and asked if she could hug me, which is kind of unusual for the suspect to be hugging the officer,” Thomas said with a laugh. “I let her hug me.”

Halloween Treats Gone Wrong. 

(photo credit: caufields.com)

(photo credit: caufields.com)

It’s that time of year again: fall (or Autumn, if you consider yourself better than the rest of us). The time when hipsters break out their slightly-less-ironic scarves, pumpkin flavoring seeps into everything, and churches everywhere roll out their 14th annual HallelujahWeen HarvestFest Trunk or Treat Hoedowns.

Full disclosure: I have both participated in and organized my fair share of the aforementioned event. The purpose of this post is not to be critical of churches who pull dunking booths onto their property once every October. Intrinsically, I think we’d all agree that there’s something more to a Halloween event than the event itself. And to be fair, these are questions that I’m asking of myself more than of other churches (more on that later).

So the post’s purpose isn’t criticism. Rather, it’s to ask a question that’s been rolling around in my own hollowed out pumpkin skull:

Are these types of “community outreach” events effective? 

My personal experience tells me that these events largely work to serve people at your church, and maybe people at other churches. (We all know the families who put trick or treating in the same category as – oh, let’s say the Bubonic Plague – but think nothing of loading up the minivan in their Moses / Esther / Seven Headed Beast of Revelation costumes and hitting every Holy Ghost Weenie Roast in the greater tri-cities area.) But when the hay dust has settled and the last bit of apple cider is gone, can we say we’ve had an evangelistic impact on our cities? When an outreach only reaches in, can we really call it an outreach?

Maybe it’s what we call them that gives me pause. I’m not sure that I’ve ever known an unbeliever who’s passed a church with a “Hallelujah Festival” ad on their marquee and thought, “That’s something that I just have to be a part of.” No, in most cases that would be viewed as an odd, insiders-only ritual that just makes them want to step on the gas and drive on by.

Or maybe it’s the “why” behind the “what” that I’m having problems with. If Trunk or Treat events only exist to provide a safe alternative to Halloween and to keep sinners with cooties at arms length, then we’ve missed the bigger picture. If our entire evangelistic goal of the evening is to hand out a Chick tract designed to scare the hades out of people, then maybe we’re doing it wrong.

Critical? Well shoot. Maybe so. But before you angrily toss your leftover fun size Almond Joy bars at me (because let’s face it, even the kids who don’t get sugar 364 other days a year ain’t touching those), what if we found an even better substitute for Halloween?

What if we discovered an alternative to our Halloween alternative?

What if we built the event on pre-existing relationships? What if we didn’t pour time and energy and resources into an event, and then opened the doors and hoped people from our neighborhood would show up? What if we didn’t engage the unchurched in our community only for special events, and then ignored them the rest of the year?

What if we encouraged our people to have real, authentic friendships with people they already live around? Work around? Play around? And what if we leveraged our “community outreach” events to maximize the outreach we’re already doing every single day?

What if we scrapped the event altogether and encouraged our people to get out on the street on October 31st and meet their neighbors and build a friendship?

Confession: the deeper I go into this post, the more I realize how much I stink at this personally. While our church no longer has Harvest Parties, we do have community outreach events on a massive scale. And so many times I get so busy investing in the event, I forget to invest in something even bigger: my relationships with unbelievers. I realize how far I have to go in befriending and serving the people on my street. I discover how many things I do in the name of “outreach” that really just reaches in.

So how about it, church leader friends? What if we got crazy intentional this year about hosting church events that unchurched people might actually show up for? What if we built new relationships outside rather than simply maintaining relationships inside? And most importantly, what if you mailed me all your unused Snickers Bars, because those things are awesome?

What successes have you had in community outreach events? I’d love to hear ’em. Comment below.

 

…or at least that was the famous saying of a student pastor I used to work with. His theory was that we never really leave behind the self-concious insecure zit-focused weirdness that seems to punctuate the lives of 6th-8th graders everywhere. And I think I agree with him.

Last Friday night I spoke at the Summit’s first ever Middle School Retreat (apparently based solely on my expertise as being a middle schooler myself, once). The topic was “Identity” out of Ephesians 2, and my goal was to try to help kids understand that for the believer, our identity was established at the cross. We are not the hats and personas we try on; we are the workmanship of Jesus Christ. His righteousness is what God sees when he looks at us. For that reason, we no longer have to worry about whether others accept us. Because God has already accepted us, it gives us the opportunity to go on the offensive and accept others and see them reconciled to the gospel.

And man, that sounded so, so good. I felt downright spiritual. I was tossing out gospel truths like they were butterscotch disks at a Christmas parade. I was telling these kids something that would change their lives forever.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…

As you know, we just moved to a new neighborhood. And prior to this neighborhood, we lived out in the country. Way out in the country. So our sum total of the rural Halloween experience was either (a) hiking into town and pretending to live in a “real” neighborhood so we could go trick or treating, (b) going to eat dinner at Pizza Hut and trying to ignore the merriment and mirth and potential satanic graveyard sacrifices at midnight that was going on all around us, or (c) protecting our rural home from the onslaught of rural Halloween-themed practical jokes, the main one involving a rural flaming brown paper sack filled with rural…things.

So the suburban Halloween experience has been new for us. One of the main things we’ve noticed is a neighborhood phenomenon known as “You’ve Been Booed.” The way You’ve Been Booed works is that a neighbor sneaks onto your porch in the middle of the night, leaves a little bucket full of candy and treats and a You’ve Been Booed sign, and as long as the suburban squirrels don’t discover it by morning, you get to take the You’ve Been Booed sign and hang it on your door, signifying that you have great relational value and intrinsic human worth in the neighborhood.

Well, I’ve been seeing these You’ve Been Booed signs on doors all over the ‘hood. And I kept thinking, “We don’t have a You’ve Been Booed sign. Nobody has left us a You’ve Been Booed sign. Without a You’ve Been Booed sign, we’re probably cementing our non-popularity status for the duration of our mortgage. I MUST GET A YOU’VE BEEN BOOED SIGN EVEN IF I HAVE TO PRINT IT MYSELF.”

And so imagine my delight when I woke up on Saturday morning (less than 12 hours after telling middle schoolers that their worth is found in Jesus) and saw a glimmer of an orange bucket sitting on the front porch. I threw open the door, shooed away the suburban squirrels, and paraded the bounty back into the house, announcing to my family “WE’VE BEEN BOOED! WE’VE BEEN BOOED! THEY LIKE US! THEY REALLY LIKE US!” (Okay, I didn’t actually announce it that way, mainly because half the family was still asleep and I wanted first crack at the candy.)

Pathetic.

In the time it took me to tape the coveted You’ve Been Booed sign on the front door, I discovered that in the depths of my heart I’m still an insecure 7th grader. I still care way too much what other people think of me. My sense of identity is not found in how God sees me, but in how people with a stash of fun sized Snickers bars see me.

How about you? What’s your best example of how you’ve never left middle school? Comment below.