I’ve heard that if you place a penny on a railroad track, it can be flattened by a speeding locomotive, but if you take that same penny and place it on the track before a standing locomotive it will prevent it from ever moving forward.
Now before you call up the guys on the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” let me say that while I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the science in that statement, the concept sure seems to hold true for ministry: momentum is invaluable to have, but generating it can be a challenge. When you have inertia in ministry, the slightest obstacle will stop you in your tracks. That’s where kindness comes in.
I was recently visiting a friend who is a wonderfully gifted pastor and teacher. He passionately loves people and has keen spiritual insight, but the church he pastors is at a virtual standstill. His frustration level is off the charts and his sheep are reluctantly wandering away to other flocks.
There are wonderful books on the shelves about how to turn a church around, but how do you actually get something moving from a dead stop? What can you do when everyone wants to see forward progress, but nobody knows where to push?
I grew up in a tradition that valued outreach based more on results than compassion. The burden for the lost was so driven by artificial guilt, that often you would even question your own salvation if you hadn’t “won a soul” that day. To exacerbate this dynamic, I was trained in a myriad witnessing models, but most of them were intrusive and confrontational. I was miserable.
Then I discovered Servant Evangelism. I found an authentic form of outreach that made me and everyone else smile, and I have been laughing my way into the community ever since.
That does not mean that Servant Evangelism is without its limitations. In the wrong hands, with the wrong motives, it can be just as dull and programmatic as any other technique. Over the years I have come to recognize an immutable law of doing church: no matter what method is used, from Sunday School visitation to tracts on the street corner, to Servant Evangelism, the key to generating and sustaining momentum in any group of Christ-followers is to tap into the flow of being consistently outward-focused.
Humans can be nice, only God can be kind. Whether it’s a small group, a church, or the Body of Christ in a city, nothing says “We’re actually doing stuff!” like outreach drenched in kindness. So what is it about kindness based outreach that makes this happen? Why is kindness so integral to building steam and keeping the train on the rails? One simple reason: kindness is infectious.
As believers in Jesus, we are hard-wired to want to see people come into a life-giving, life-changing encounter with the One who has changed us. It’s part of our new nature in the New Covenant. Kindness is the most direct conduit to a community of love.
It really is a simple process:
1. Notice God.
2. Notice Others
3. Help others notice God
People will come from miles around to be part of a group of people who are experiencing that kind of fun.
Kindness is the real key to the momentum of outreach: it isn’t about the bottom line number of people that you are actually reaching with your events and bringing in. The momentum comes from the “out-of-the woodwork” crowd that begins to gather around your church or group because they want to be a part of a church, or group, or even a single person who does the stuff that you’re doing. You are infecting them with something, and they like it.
This is also the answer to how momentum is maintained. I have heard Peter Wagner say that whatever a church is built on, it must be maintained on. If you build momentum through kindness, it must be maintained on kindness. If you use it as a gimmick, then throw it away in favor of the next big thing, you also stand a good chance of throwing away every person who came to you who liked what you just threw out.
So let’s change our analogy from a train to a boat. If you find yourself in a place of frustration and bewilderment because the people with whom you love Jesus are sitting dead still on a waveless ocean, reach out and start paddling. The more people that put their hands in the water with you, the faster you will go, and before you know it, you will be leaving a wake of the love of God behind you. Now that’s momentum.
Mark Wyatt is the happy pastor of Deeper Life Fellowship in Mobile, Alabama. He enjoys sunsets, good conversation, and long walks on the beach. But he really likes a good cheesecake. You can email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org