“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Responsibility

One of the questions I raised is how much responsibility do we have to the surrounding community, or do we have any at all? I find this to be a question which raises knee-jerk reactions and hackles all around. On one side, you have those whose response is "Of course, we have a responsibility, we must take care of all of the people we lay our eyes on". Then on the other side, you have those who emphatically state "No, our ministry is to those who are Christ's alone". And both sides can be quite passionate about their positions.

Now, I am a pastor at a small church, not an expert; but I have been on both sides of this argument, and I will tell you that the truth is somewhere in between. The folks who feel that every person in the community must be taken care of may be a wonderful idealist, but they are not always being a realist. Now, before all of you dogpile with the proverbial; "Trust that the Lord will provide..., our church does that every single week, but there still needs to be a focus to our ministry, or we will simply burn out the church.

I want to be helpful here with suggestions and not simply words that express my feeling, so here is my first suggestion -- no church can bear the responsibility for the poor alone. So, therefore you should not approach the poor with the idea that it is your church's responsibility to single-handedly 'save' the entire town.

Notice that the church in Acts 6 is concerned with their own poor, and not the poor of the entire city of Jerusalem -- they realized that their meager resources had to, first and foremost, take care of their own people within the family of God. So, if you are a small church such as ours, you must focus on your own poor first. Some churches, because of the nonsensical church-growth mindset of individualism, are completely unaware of those within their own church who are in need!

ONLY when you have taken care of those within your own fellowship should you contemplate reaching out into the community. By taking care of those within the fellowship first, you are able to not only provide for their physical needs but, because they are part of your family,. you are also able to provide for their spiritual needs, and their community needs.

So, that is the first part -- now what about those who say our 'outreach' should ONLY be to those within our church? When we look at Christ's ministry, we find that He helped and reached out to thousands, feeding them and teaching them. Yes, there was a specific group He spent most of His time with, but He did not ignore the world around Him. If you read the Sermon on the Mount, you will find some of these ideas -- Matthew 5:42ff -- Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

There are large churches around our town who, I am sure, do some work to the community around them, but these churches should be the ones who lead the way in doing this. I can tell you that they are not as I have been turned away from their churches after asking for help in our community outreach ministries. Many of these churches have their own 'programs' for doing this, but they are often far removed from the folks they are supposed to be helping, and quite often their 'program' involves a CFO sitting at a desk, writing out a check to some organization that they may have little interaction with outside of financial support.

Our responsibility goes beyond 'cutting a check' for a group; I live, literally, within 10 miles of at least four monster churches, and I have visited two of them and inquired about their programs, and found that they do exactly what I said above. While I applaud their financial support, I believe that the church should do much, much more than just send money. Some of these churches could easily support a true outreach center, where single, or battered women could find shelter and spiritual help, or where children could be taught etc.

It is a sad statement that those who are doing the most for the community are people that the Christian community labels as heretics. While some of these people are truly heretical in their view, and some are health and wealth acolytes, at least they are reaching their community. What does it say about the Christian community when the best-known example of community service comes from a church that teaches false doctrine? Why do we think people flock to some of these places?

The church is still a very divided place, and when CGM tells us to 'demographically' target our audience, we end up with racially, and economically divided churches. And no one 'targets' the economically disadvantaged -- trust me, I have been in two churches that actually used a demographic model, ala PDC/L, and not once did I hear -- "Hey, let's reach the needy in our community". What that spawns is a mindset that the 'needs' of the church need to be taken care of before venturing into the community.

"Now, wait a minute Ray, you just said that we should do that!" Read it again, I said the needs of the poor in the church should be taken care of -- not the comfort needs of the rich, many times white, suburban professional. Is putting in a Starbucks facade really taking care of the needs of the church? Is installing a big-screen monitor (or five!) really taking care of the needs of the church?

Does any pastor NEED a seven figure salary? Is a church being faithful with their funds and abilities when they have a staff that sucks up most of the tithing monies, and the rest go to HVAC to heat and cool the monstrosities that pass for churches nowadays?

My friends, we do have a responsibility to our communities -- we are to be the Body of Christ, reaching out into places where few will go, feeding, and nurturing those who are in most need. Many orthodox Christians throw darts at the many heretics, shucksters, and fools that populate the pulpit nowadays, but the sad fact is; many of these selfsame people are doing much more to reach the community.

The ancient Romans were embarrassed by the Christian communities care for even the pagan poor, sadly, today we are known more for what we stand against than our efforts top reach the community!

5 comments:

Dave said...

Amen, Ray.

It should be a wake up call to us when the benevolence parade is being led by the RC's, the Salvation Army and, yes, even the Unitarians.

Maybe that's why evangelicals get a bad rap from those outside the church. Those folks KNOW Jesus told us to aid the needy, and yet they ALSO know we're not doing it.

Shame on us.

Dave

Alan Knox said...

Ray,

Great observations and very balanced answers! I appreciate that you are trying to live in that tension between taking care of family and being salt and light in the world. I think we usually tend toward one extreme or the other. Thank you for the encouragement and the challenge.

-Alan

Even So... said...

Excellent, yes, I agree with Alan Knox...it is a tension we must continaully live with, there is no cookie cutter answer...

Heather said...

I came here from Alan's blog ... I think is an excellent post and so balanced! Thanks for posting this!

Blessings!

~Heather

Ray said...

Thank you every one for your kind comments. I agree -- there is a tension that we live with, and I think it is a mistake to try and ignore, or relieve that tension by swinging the pendulum too far in either direction.

The Lord calls us into a life full of balance and tension as Christians who have been redeemed. We are called to be salt and light but not be of the world, we are called to be counter-cultural in our approach to our fellow man etc.

I wish I could say that I had it all figured out, or that I always did the right thing in my ministry, but sadly, I am far from perfect myself.

I appreciate all of your comments... I pray that we will all get better in our ministry to a lost and dying world!