Caution External FocusExternally focused ministry is a great idea! But it can be filled with false assumptions and fatal errors. Here are 5 Cautions in venturing forth in this ministry.

  1. Externally focused ministry is not about promoting your church. It might happen. But that is not the point. Do not go out and buy t-shirts for everyone to wear saying something clever about your church or about God. Would you go to a church because they wore a t-shirt? It is not going to happen. It might create some “esprit to corp” or identity among the church members or participants but it won’t “promote” your church. It also will be less likely that someone who wouldn’t normally go to church will join you in this good deed - they will probably feel awkward wearing it. The point is for your people to live out an authentic faith and love people. Your people will benefit the most from this work. They should be motivated by the love of God in Jesus Christ, not because it will convince the general public that your church is filled with the “good guys” and they should come because you wore a clever t-shirt. A t-shirt might even minimize the sincerity of your service and appear manipulative to get people to join your church. Get ready to see people be suspicious and run the other way if your motivation is to get people to attend while you wear a t-shirt.
  2. Externally focused ministry is not just something you can do and so you’ve “checked the box” until next time (next week, next month, year, etc). Externally focused ministry is what living as a disciple is all about! “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20. Living as a disciple and as a community of faith is to live without the focus on self and what it wants but to live for Christ and that often looks like living for others. It is lving sacrificially. That is a continual daily effort, not just something you check off and so you can get back to the way it has always been.
  3. People will ask you why you are doing this! Be ready to answer! Or as Peter says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” 1 Peter 3:15. What are you going to say? You don’t have a t-shirt to tell them! So be ready to be authentic! “Awe shucks, we just want to help” doesn’t cut it. I think Reggie McNeal says it so well when he quotes another pastor who instructs his members to reply when they are asked. “I am a follower of Jesus. I am serving Him by serving you, because that’s what He came to do.” It says all the right things: it is not about “churchiosity” but following Jesus authentically, it points to Jesus who served us ultimately on the cross and it leaves the door open for more dialogue.
  4. Don’t think handing out water bottles is externally focused ministry. I once had a coaching client who thought he would deploy his people to help shoppers carry their bags from the store to their car. Really? The people thought they were being robbed! And handing out water might be good on a hot day but it isn’t really humble service, is it? Pick something after doing your homework! What does the community need? Where is the gap and where are people really looking for support? It may be a listening ear, a praying caring person, tutoring children where the literacy rate is abysmal. But please avoid the gimmicks. They look like gimmicks and non-believers can spot them a mile away!
  5. Don’t believe the lie that this ministry isn’t for everyone. Really? Living sacrificially, serving others in the name of Christ, denying yourself isn’t for every Christian? Maybe not everyone can use a shovel or paint brush but externally focused ministry is indeed for everyone. If they can’t physically do it they can support it through prayer, through driving volunteers, through inviting their non-believing friends and coworkers to join them, from bringing refreshments for those who are doing physical work and other support measures. In fact the entire ministry plan of the church can revolve around externally focused ministry, ie. How believers at your church can live lives of sacrifice, service and love in the name of Jesus. A pretty good idea!

Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, or

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External Focus – Caution!

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