mariners-outreach-ministryEven with the best of intentions, things have a way of going south.

When we launched our outreach ministry (at Mariners Church in Orange County, Calif.), the first thing we thought to do was meet the basic needs of the people we were serving. Sounds reasonable, right? They need groceries; we’ll give them a bag of food. They need winter coats? Got it. School supplies? Check. Then we’ll teach them about Jesus and they’ll pray the prayer and bam! We’re all good.

But wait.

If we really believe in an irresistible Savior whose love is the most powerful force on earth, why is it we cling to manipulative tools, gimmicks and cheap material resources to all but bribe someone into the kingdom of heaven?

Let’s say you’re visiting a village in Africa, or a squatter’s camp on an earthquake-ravaged island, or a slum in downtown Santa Ana, and you’re handing out mosquito nets or water bottles or bags of groceries to the residents there. The long line of people waiting is a clear sign they really need what you’ve brought. It’s a captive audience.

As you pass the nets across the folding table, or hand a bag of food to a mother holding a sick baby in her other arm, do you say, “This is a free gift to you and all your neighbors from God-loving people who care about you,” or do you start asking them about their relationship with Christ?

There’s a subtlety here I don’t want you to miss, because I have missed it many times.

If you’re still holding on to the gift as you ask them about Jesus, there’s a very good chance the two will be connected in their mind, and not in the way you may have intended. Just for a moment, they may think something like, “Do I need to say yes to Jesus to get this water?”

Most of the time, we’re not even conscious of whether we’re still hanging on to the gift, but sometimes I think we are.

The way we present the gospel can sometimes feel like a business transaction: “If you give me this or respond to what I’m asking, Jesus will do this for you. He’ll save you from hell if you say these words. He’ll provide a meal for you if you raise your hand.”

Certainly, there are people who recognize this and work the system to their advantage. But the people we minister to have taught us that receiving the gospel is more than just a simple transaction. We often assume we need material incentives to motivate people. We think we need to bribe them into wanting a relationship with God. We need to convince them Christ will solve their problems, whether they are emotional, relational or financial. But so often, despite the apparent material needs they have, that isn’t what they really want. More than anything what they want and need is relationship.

Being Authentically Generous

This transactional method—offering people reward for the right behavior or response—is very effective at motivating people. It works well in the business world and is frequently used by parents as they try to shape the behavior of their children. Unfortunately, we sometimes use this method when we present the gospel to people. Intentionally or not, we manipulate people using the power of stuff. When we achieve success this way, though our numbers may look great and we may see visible responses to our work of ministry, the success we achieve is not consistent with the heart of the gospel message.

Transactional ministry is often done with good motives, but I wonder if deep down we embrace it because we like the way it makes us feel. We like the visible results. And the people we are serving need what we offer them, even if they have to jump through a hoop to get it. But this way of ministering to people reflects a lack of genuine love—and a lack of faith.

It is ministry that is centered on doing what makes us feel good, ministry that must have immediate, visible result to be considered successful. True spiritual fruit isn’t always produced immediately, though. When we minister in this way, we focus on the short-term results and lack faith in God’s work over the long haul.

So is there a way for us to be authentically generous with people without trying to get something in return? Yes. It’s generosity that overflows from a heart that is satisfied in god, a heart that is willing and ready to sacrifice for others—not to get something in return, but as the natural fruit of God’s love for us. And this requires a deeper commitment to really knowing and loving people.

Our conversations about Jesus shouldn’t be the only ones we have with the people we serve. We have to earn the right to be heard and to share the gospel with people. And we do this be sacrificially loving and serving them, not because we have to, but because we want to.

When it comes to the work of Jesus, we need to show up with a loving heart and open arms, letting the Holy Spirit do the work of bring people closer to God.

Laurie Beshore is the founding pastor of Mariners Outreach Ministries in Orange County, Calif. She has been married for 33 years to Kenton Beshore, the senior pastor of Mariners Church.

Note: The preceding is an excerpt from Laurie Beshore’s book, Love Without Walls: Learning to Be a Church in the World For the World. The book is designed to not only better equip next-generation outreach ministries to spread the message of Christ, but also to help every Christian more faithfully live out the Great Commission in their daily lives.

Leaders are readers! Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman all for $24. YES - I'm a leader!

Ministry Today Subscription Special - Subscribe to Ministry Today magazine today and get 12 issues (2 full years) plus Amplified Leadership, a free leadership book for only $24.

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
  • Discouragement can be a serious struggle.

    Guard Your Spirit Against These 4 Crippling Attacks

    Are you struggling this Valentine's Day with one of these discouraging issues?

  • Some of the toughest lessons reap the greatest rewards.

    10 Tough Lessons Every Pastor Should Remember in Ground-Shaking Trials

    One is that your suffering may turn out to be the highest compliment the Father ever gave you.

  • Why Many Christians Misunderstand This Crucial Leadership Trait

    Great leadership doesn't start with a great education, although that is incredibly valuable. ...

  • Worship leaders, keep your team's attitude in check.

    This Can Quickly Erode a Worship Team's Culture

    God has given us talent and He calls for excellence, but excellence with this is not honoring ...

  • Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Watch how God can take one spark and turn it into a wildfire that impacts your ministry, your community and even future generations.

  • Your Source of Unlimited Kingdom Energy and Power

    Jesus said that we can do greater works than He did and that He will do whatever we ask in His Name.

  • What reasons can you think of that leaders might not choose to delegate authority?

    7 Reasons Some Leaders Dump Delegation

    These could have a lot to do with stalled growth and low team morale.

  • These seven responses can get you on the right track.

    Responding Like Jesus When Your Church Kicks You Out

    It's a pain that many in the ministry have felt at least once and maybe more.

  • A 'What's in it for me?' mentality could bring your church down.

    The Mentality That May Be Killing Your Church

    And we wonder why so many congregations are stagnated, plateaued or declining.

Use Desktop Layout
Ministry Today Magazine — Serving and empowering church leaders