Phil Proctor is the pastor of Sterling Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Sterling, VA, just outside the Washington DC metro area. He was formerly an OPC Missionary to Uganda. He and his wife, Meredith, have 4 adult children.
This week we share Phil’s answers to our first 3 questions in the interview…
What is something that you believe and/or do in regards to outreach that has changed over your time in ministry?
I think outreach involves being a part of the community. This has looked different in different places I’ve lived and seasons of life, but the core remains the same.
One of the things we’ve always tried to do is get to know our neighbors. This is mostly Meredith’s gifting driving things and most often around a meal, coffee, or tea. We’re blessed with an open concept family room and kitchen, which allows us to put 3 folding tables together and host 20 – 30 people for Thanksgiving. These include folks from our congregation who aren’t able to be with their larger family as well as other friends we’ve invited.
When we moved back from Uganda, our kids ranged from 16 to 11 (3 girls and our youngest a son). I took a call to a small congregation, Sterling OPC and got to know my area of ministry from a slowly expanding circle from Dulles Airport, which was my introduction to “NoVa”. One of the things which made ministry so “easy” in Uganda was the color of my skin. In the areas outside the capitol, Kampala, I was immediately assumed to be a Christian missionary. A standard Ugandan English greeting is “Hallelujah, praise Jesus” followed by a hearty smile and handshake. I would often (depending on the circumstances) go into a shocked routine: “Oh you’re a Christian? Then you must be a sinner, right?” Most would answer “yes I am a Christian, but I am not a sinner” which was just a softball that either led to some enjoyable conversation that would often draw others into the debate or end the conversation quickly as they rolled their eyes and walked away. Living in Mbale, one aspect of ministry was pastoring a congregation. By the time I left, we were about 100 folks from Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Korea, the UK and US missionaries who weren’t part of the OPC’s mission. Our congregation looked like the United Nations, and of course there was the food that we could all enjoy fellowship around, but there were also disobedient 2 year olds knocking over lamps. No matter what culture you come from, parents get frustrated. Parenting classes and community service projects were another way of bringing this eclectic group of people into life together as we studied the Word together.
Ministry in busy, wealthy, suburban life was a different experience altogether, but the same outreach seems to work in Uganda and in Northern Virginia: Show them Christ in His Word and attempt to reflect that in your life. Since I didn’t have an easy “in” to conversations like I’d enjoyed in Uganda, Meredith and I tried to share in our children’s lives and provide a welcoming home for their friends. Over the years many of the friends and their families came to Sterling as the opportunity arose to invite them. If it wasn’t a worship service, it would be an event at our, or one of the church members’ homes, inviting others in. Twice a year we host a “cul de sac” cookout where I drag our grill to the end of my driveway, we have a folding table, and people bring food. It takes all the planning of putting up a yard sign a few weeks prior and pulling out the equipment. Our Memorial Day cookout was our first since the Labor Day weekend of 2019, and the neighbors were all eager for the time together. A family recently moved into our cul de sac and are already talking about the upcoming one. This crazy busy, self important, “politics is life” culture loves to relax and hang out around food and the idea of neighborhood community.
If the OPC and OPC churches want to continue to grow in our effectiveness in reaching the lost-what is the most important thing we need to work on and how or in what way(s) should we be working on it?
For the OPC to reach the lost, we need to work on having friendships with the lost – kids’ sports teams, being friendly and saying “hello” to your neighbors, using technology (Facebook, Meetup, etc.) to create occasions for in person conversation. I’m an introvert and usually find larger events exhausting, but (a) there’s nothing that stops me from being polite and engaged in one-on-one interactions with people and (b) my personality traits must be subordinated to God’s commands (Hebrews 13:1; Romans 12:9-13, 1 Timothy 3:2 etc.). This is true for every believer, not just church officers, but it must be exemplified by the church officers. Part of our discipleship of Christians in the church is a continuing emphasis on intentional hospitality. All my acquaintances know that I’m a Christian, a smaller portion even engage in spiritual conversation, an even smaller portion (1% maybe) ever visit Sterling. That’s ok – my primary goal in evangelism isn’t to accomplish a percentage of “wins” – it’s to live openly and faithfully in obedience to God and to seek occasions to give a reason for the hope that lies within me.
What is something that has surprised you about outreach and evangelism to the lost as you have done it?
Something that has surprised me: people are more often than not interested in spiritual topics – everyone has some sort of spiritual core that drives them, and in a context of friendliness, hospitality and proper occasion most are eager to discuss their “worldview.”