Outreach Update 2022

December 2022 | Written by Steve Moberg

Earlier this year, Gashland’s Director of Student Ministries, Caleb Mason, took on the additional role of Director of Missions. We recently sat down with Caleb to talk about his plans for this new area, and how he plans to fit all this into his schedule.

      Caleb has been a part of the Outreach Team for about 5-½ years, but his work in this area really began back in college. “I was really big into missions and outreach, leading several different teams to several different places. Also, my minor is in cross-cultural studies and I worked for three years in college doing student ministry after-care.” During that work, he said he got a taste for people of all different walks of life. “People who were impoverished, people with different religious backgrounds, a lot of differences to what I typically had. I would go down to a basketball court super in the hood in West Palm Beach [Florida]. I would play there every Monday night and get to know the 40-50 guys out there – I was usually the only white guy out there. But we just had good conversations, and I strived to bring up Christ to them. That’s why I originally got on Outreach – my desire to love on neighbors well. Pretty early after I got here we put the basketball court outside, and I’ve strived to do a lot of sports things for the neighbors.”

      While working on Outreach, Caleb saw things he thought GEPC might be able to do better, with greater focus. So early this year, he started discussing his ideas with the two pastors. “I said initially that ‘I don’t know if I have the time or energy to do it, but I see the need for this church and I want to try to meet that need’. So we started brainstorming how that could look, how it could actually function with the position I’m currently in. Because that was the heart – not to transition out of student ministry, not to lessen what we are doing in student ministry, but just to balance it well. It came out of less of a pastoral side, more of ‘I’m a member here and I want to see this done well at our church. I think we can do it better, so I want to help with that.’”

      Caleb already introduced some changes this year, like the Serve Day 4:10 on October 1. “We got a lot of good feedback from that. We had 70+ people come out, across a lot of demographics, so I was really happy with it.” Caleb didn’t know fully what to expect going into it, so he was very happy to see people come out and support it, with a lot of people excited about doing it again soon. “I think how we organized things with a diversity of opportunities was really helpful. People enjoyed getting to know some of the neighbors, getting to really make a difference, and recognizing that it’s not just one gifting we’re looking for. We’re not just saying we’re doing yard work and anyone who can do yard work [can help]. We had 2-year-olds doing cards for people, and some older folks helping with cooking. It was all across the board age-wise, so it was really cool.”

      But Caleb is looking to expand the ministry in 2023. “We’re hoping to do more education for the congregation, so we’ll have two, maybe three, Saturday night services where they will be missional-focused. I’ll be preaching and we’ll have everything else kind of pared down. We’ll have a lot of time to get to know culture and get to know needs in our area.” Caleb said these services will be similar to Pastor Ritchey’s sermons on the Great Commission in November. “Teaching people and equipping people well to do outreach, to know the reason behind having a missional focus for all believers, but then also equipping them to do that. We’re going to do more of the 4:10 Serve days – I think we’re going to do two or three this next year. Educating and mobilizing, trying to pair those two things together.” Caleb has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and hopes to help give the congregation an understanding of the needs in our area. “And why them – why should they do something about it?”

      Something else Outreach is striving to do this year is think through the support of more ministries – not necessarily financial support, although that may be part of it. “But more verbalizing things about the needs in our area to the congregation.”  Caleb hopes to modify the team’s past practice of hearing about the needs of a ministry, and if they decided to support them, they would just make a financial donation. “We want to support them more with our time and our energy. I think when we are able to voice those things to the congregation, of ‘Hey, at Turning Point there is this, and this, or this’, then people are more able to say ‘I think I can get behind that and I can get involved in this ministry’. And then we are getting a whole congregation of people mobilized, not just being told this is the only avenue for what you could do. They are getting to hear about different organizations on a consistent basis and see if there is something that might fit well for them. And hopefully on those Serve Days we give them an opportunity to get their feet wet and see ‘This wasn’t that bad and I actually enjoyed this organization. It’s easy to sign up and help this place.’”

      Caleb hopes the people of GEPC spread this spirit beyond the events the church sponsors. “Ideally, we want people involved in the community, serving their own neighbors, not just Gashland’s neighbors. We also want people to not just think that they are supporting ministry and outreach only through their dollars … although that’s a great way to support ministry and outreach … we want people to get involved with their hands. That does a work on your own heart and gets you prepared to do more ministry in your daily life. If you’re able to come out to one of our 4:10 Serve Days and get to know neighbors and get hands on, it equips you well to go back home and serve your own surrounding neighbors in that fashion. I read a book that, in the day and age we live, people view their home as a castle. They shut the garage door like it’s a moat – ‘This is my place, my domain, and I don’t care about these neighbors!’ We don’t have this hospitality spirit any more. Whereas the church specifically, but Christians, need to be open and sitting on our porch and hoping to interact with neighbors – knowing our neighbors and loving on them. Like Ritchey said, we need to go where the fish are. We need to recognize ‘I can’t just associate with Christians, I need to go out into the world and strive to have real conversations and meet real needs.’ The way we do that sometimes is to get out of our comfort zones.”

      If you’re a student (or a parent of a student), Caleb said that despite the work he will be doing in missions, he is not going to abandon you. Part of his plan is to equip others to lead. “Our small groups for high school girls and high school guys are now solely led by students. Those are groups I had a heavy hand in previously. The desire was always to get them to be student-led, but sometimes you want things to be perfect and you want to keep your hands in them. Now I essentially just meet with the two students who lead those on a consistent basis, and teach them, and love on them, and then they are equipped to go out and lead those. And that’s something off my plate.” Caleb also looks to involve more volunteers. “People I can count on, a team I can go to and trust with different things.”

      Caleb said part of the transition has been thinking through all the things being done in student ministry and making sure they’re worth doing. “I had to be really intentional about even days of the week we do certain events. Sometimes an event would be on Friday or Saturday night, so instead of using up those valuable spaces, I’ve switched it to Wednesday nights after youth group when I’m already out, I’m already doing things, the students are out, so let’s just pair that up – because it works! I’m trying to organize the schedule a little better to allow missions to take up part of my week.” However, he recognizes sometimes there are still going to be more hours on his plate. “That’s something I knew going into this. I’ve talked heavily with different elders and Ritchey and Michael about how sometimes there are definitely going to be more hours. I get that – especially when students are in need and they need to meet with me.  I’ve always said to the students, and I’m going to keep this word, ‘You guys come first, above anything else, so if you need to meet up, I’ll drop anything else I’m doing job-wise and I’ll meet up.’ Some weeks are going to be busier than others because of that, but I’m never going to take that off my plate.”

      Giving the students more exposure to leadership will hopefully help them build skills for college and the rest of their lives. “We see a lot of that and that’s encouraging to see – equipping them well to be leaders and not just consumers in the church. The majority of our youth group now are people who are un-churched, their parents don’t go to church, so it’s cool to see the ones who have been in the youth group for a number of years take the leadership roles. To reach out to the other students and learn not just to come to youth group, be a consumer, sit back in your favorite seat and talk to your friends. But to reach out to the others who are new. Again, even in those small things, I’m still there and still spending that time, but a little less energy because I have these other students who are willing to step in and lead in some of those ways.

      Asked how the congregation can best support him, Caleb said buy-in is a big thing – and being willing to be pushed outside your comfort zone. “It’s easy to think ‘Well, I’ve done something else’ or ‘I’m involved with something else’.  I talked to a lot of people going into the Serve Day who were like ‘I do Chair Team’ or ‘I do this …’.  And I get that – that’s definitely a service, that’s a good thing, and I’m involved in things like that, too. But this is something different and we’re starting to build something so that even if you do something else, it’s going to be helpful for you to come to this and then encourage others in the congregation to come. It’s this catalytic event that stirs up the rest. And the biggest thing is prayer – praying consistently for these neighbors, for our ministries. I would encourage people to know what our ministries are, who the missionaries we support are, pray for them, and be consistent about that.” He said that’s one of the biggest things they constantly think about at the Missions and Outreach meetings. “That’s part of the reason we moved the Mission Board from sort of a dimly-lit corner of the church to something a little more lit up, downstairs.”

      Caleb hopes to better communicate with the congregation about who we support. “I think if you polled a random congregation member, my guess is they would not be able to list off the different ministries and missionaries that we support. And even if they do list off several of them, to go a little more in depth on ‘What does that ministry do?’ or ‘Where is that missionary located?’ Maybe we’ve heard the names or heard of the organization but what does it actually do, how can you get involved, have you ever been there, have you ever been involved? I would hope that our congregation would know those things – maybe they’re not involved in all those different things, but at least they know of them and have tried it at least. So that’s my hope – a lot of prayer and a lot of being willing to be pushed a little bit.”

      The depth of Caleb’s passion for missions is shown in the decision-making process he and his wife, Cassidy, went through when they were thinking about what was going to come next for them after their time in West Palm Beach. “We actually looked into missions. We had two different missions agencies that we got pretty far into talks with, but we felt God leading us here instead.” What a blessing it has been for Gashland that they made that decision!