Old Wisdom for New Outreach

I am happy to share with you that Dr. Keith Loomans was my mentor and friend. I first met Keith as a member of the review committee when I was hired into church work, and he acted as my part-time boss and advisor for a number of years. For those of you who did not know him, he was a tireless promoter of Jesus, Lutheranism, Education, and the Texas District LCMS. I will always feel greatly honored to call him my friend.

Keith always had a heart for outreach and was eager to spend time with people, learning about them, their families, and their cultures. He touched many people’s lives in a variety of ways, and I will still sometimes hear from people whom he taught in ESL classes, Bible school, and various other outreach programs. But I would like to share some wisdom he taught me by example in what might be called reverse outreach. It was a clever scheme Keith employed to build our new friendship, although, as I will show later, it was not entirely original, but instead built on some very old wisdom.

I had been working with Keith for a few months and had learned he was patient and observant. He had shown he cared for people and would always take the time to listen to them. One day he came into my office and, after checking on me, announced that he had a big project and really needed my help. I still remember him saying he needed a big favor and I was just the person who could help him out. I was not eager to have a busy weekend, but I did want to help Keith out if I could, so I agreed. About a month later, I spent the weekend providing technical support for a Lutheran conference. I would come to find out it was something Keith had been doing by himself for a number of years, and although I suspected he could have done the work himself this year also, I took pride in the work I did to help him and learned a great deal. It was really nice to earn so much praise from Keith for my work. Looking back, I often thought this was the true beginning of our close friendship. I was thankful he had trusted me with the opportunity to help him.

All of this might sound like another friendly anecdote about Dr. Loomans, but it is much more. Some years later I decided to do some research on the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin and discovered a principle foundational to Keith’s invitation. Of Franklin’s many stories, there was one that struck a particular chord. Franklin wrote about how he approached a rival with whom he wished to build a friendship. Rather than take a typical approach, like we might when wishing to do outreach in the church, Franklin turned the outreach idea on its head. First, he got to know his rival. After learning that he owned a book Franklin valued highly, Franklin wrote a kind note to him, asking his rival for the immense favor of lending him the book. When Franklin finished the book, he returned it and followed up by writing another note, telling his rival how thankful he was for the man’s kindness.

Franklin said, “And he ever afterwards manifested a Readiness to serve me on all Occasions, so that we became great Friends, & our Friendship continu’d to his Death. This is another Instance of the Truth of an old Maxim I had learnt, which says, He that has once done you a Kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged” (Franklin, Benjamin. “Autobiography and Other Writings.” p 105. Oxford World’s Classics, Edited by Ormond Seavey. 1706-1790).

I don’t know if Keith Loomans ever read this passage or heard of this maxim, but this is exactly the approach I saw him use with me and others. Rather than only going out to do things in the community to provide services to others, Keith was careful to learn about other people’s talents and skills. He would then look for opportunities to ask these acquaintances to assist him with work for the church or the local community, giving them the opportunity to provide him with service. Finally, he would always give them thanks and acknowledgment for their volunteer activities and the good they had done.

Having read Franklin’s writing, I wonder if it might sometimes be a more prudent community outreach strategy as a church if, instead of going into communities and providing services to people for their thanks, we instead asked for members of the communities to help us. In this way, we would empower them to be heroes in their own communities. Instead of people telling their neighbors that the Lutheran church helped them out, they might tell their family and friends, “Look at the community certificate I was awarded from the Lutheran church down the road! They said I am a hero for making the community better.”

Pride and ownership are strong motivating factors, as Keith showed me.

–A Friend of Keith Loomans

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