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Monday, August 27, 2012

"Organic Outreach for Families" (Kevin and Sherry Harney)

TITLE: Organic Outreach for Families: Turning Your Home into a Lighthouse
AUTHOR: Kevin G. Harney and Sherry Harney
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (192 pages).

This book is a follow up of the very successful "organic outreach" series of books by the influential Kevin Harney of Shoreline Community Church. The first two books deal with doing outreach organically as an ordinary person, and then as a Church organism. This book looks to help equip the ordinary home to be the lighthouse of the world, or in particular, our neighbourhood. The authors begin, and rightly so, with reaching inward to the family members. The central premise of this book is that we cannot give to others what we do not have. If our families are not touched by God's light, how can we then be a lighthouse to the world or our neighbourhoods? Beginning with his surprise on the hostility toward the faith by some of the students he has encountered, Harney asks the question of how parents can ever instill a lifelong commitment in their children toward the love and passion for God's Word. While parents know that the Word cannot be "shoved" down the children's throats, they can show the truth through words and through living by example. The key is living by grace, beginning at home. By adopting storytelling and the friendship method, one can begin influence at an early age. Sherry shows the way through modeling, recognizing the child's uniqueness, and using the biblical proverbs to guide the children's growth. "Repeatedly and organically" is the main theme. It can also be translated as intentional and consistent. Be listening to the children's needs. Be inviting for them to enter into God's overall story. Be gracious when they reject initial attempts. Be ready to give thanks and rejoice for any positive overtures.

From the family, the book progresses toward reaching out the extended members of the family through patience, and constant linking of arms in relating to one another. This calls for a clear understanding of what the gospel means, and how relevant it is to the needs of all families. While there is discipline involved in the family, there is also safety that can be expected of a God-fearing family. This is especially when parents design rules for growing children, especially teens, where there is a rising need to show them the principles, the rationale, and the benefits of discipline. The ability to know when to probe and tune in, and when to refrain and tune out of the lives of teenagers is wisdom in practice. The Harneys also show us that the home can be a fun place to be in, while becoming a lighthouse. There is even a theology of play and of prayer. There is a creative use of the "bowl" image that I find fascinating. We are urge to beware of being overly focused on the "bowl of good things" that we forget the most important thing: the gospel. We need to beware of the "bowl of fear" that can hide the light of Jesus. We need to avoid the bowl of "disobedience" and the "bowl of material stuff" which will lead us away from God.  Finally, the authors provide a host of ideas on how to connect and how to overcome challenges that face families trying to reach out to families, as families.

My Thoughts

There is nothing really new in this book when it comes to the idea of an "organic outreach." Having said that, what is useful and practical are the ideas that come with each and every chapter. Though some of the things are pretty obvious, it is important enough to bear re-stating. Human beings are terribly forgetful people, and reminders are more needed than we choose to admit. What the Harneys do well is to have this central idea repeated throughout the book, that we all need to become a lighthouse, whether as individual family members, as family units, or as parents. By infusing an outreach mentality from young through exemplary living, biblical training, teaching and intentional guiding, the Harneys demonstrate that it is all possible to do outreach naturally. That is what "organic" is all about: Natural.  There are three major themes I find helpful. Firstly, there is that staunch conviction that outreach begins with inreach. Before anything can be authentically done outside, there needs to be inner transformations inside. Secondly, this is also a book about Christian parenting, on how parents can instill Christian values in the home, for the young, the teenager, and the growing young adult. Thirdly, this book joins the growing influence of the "Organic Outreach" series of books, that shows us once again that outreach is not simply an external activity reserved for the professionals or the external departments of church mission boards. It is very much a dynamic activity of letting God's light shine through us, everywhere. If there is one critique, I will question the statement made by Kevin Harney, in that we need to reach our families "before" we start to reach out to our neighbours and communities. While the principle is good, should we straitjacket ourselves to not reach out at all until we talk to our own families? The trouble is, why can't we do both? Why can't we use reaching out to neighbours as a way of reaching inward as well? Moreover, there is also the question of how much is sufficient inreach before we do outreach? I understand what the Harneys are saying. I just want to let readers consider that God is still able to work in all ways, and for parents who are late in the process be encouraged.

If you like the first two books on the organic outreach series, you will like this book too. If you are currently a young parent, this book will be a good book to start with. If you are a pastor, a teacher, or a Church leader, this book provides excellent material for practical ideas. If I can predict what is to come next, I suppose there will soon be an "organic outreach for the online world. things Online."

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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