Friday, February 22, 2013

What's A Church To Do?

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, — Matthew 28:19 (NASB95)
The population is growing faster than the church is. Because of that, younger generations are more confused about the church and Christianity than ever. The good news is that many churches are focused on doing whatever it takes to help a new generation know and follow Jesus. – Dan Kimball, Outreach Magazine
There’s great concern today throughout the United States, and among churches of all kinds. It seems that people are leaving churches, and fewer young people are showing any interest for investing themselves in the church. Those are sad, but sober facts. We can say we don’t like that news, and that’s fine, but we can’t hide our heads in the sand and deny reality.

There are lots of reasons for this decline. Churches bear a lot of the fault. We come across as too judgmental, not compassionate or caring, overly political, and interested in the wrong things. Those perceptions and more are real. We might want to argue, but we really need to listen, then we need to reassess ourselves and the way we communicate with others.

I'm certainly not suggesting that we change the gospel, or any of the biblical record. That’s not only not necessary, but it would be wrong. But the way we communicate needs to change, and the way we relate to people outside the church must improve. The alternative is that disinterest will grow, more people will either leave the church or fail to participate, and if that happens long enough, individual churches will die. Maybe a lot of them. I don’t think we really want that to happen.

A great many people who are talking about this sound as if they are ready to throw up their hands and surrender. Church leaders are frightened. A lot of preachers are busy pointing fingers of blame. We’re inundated with “experts” who tell us to try this magic formula or that one. What’s a church to do?

I have a couple of suggestions. First, we need to get positive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most positive thing in the world. It saves the lost, redeems sinners, changes lives, and gives hope both for life and eternity. Now is the time to refocus on the best of all things.

Second, we need to get to work. We do that by trying new things, new ways of reaching out to people, new ways of communicating. In all of that we’ll probably find that human needs are the same as ever, but we need new ways of reaching those needy people. What’s a church to do? A lot! And so we learn new ways to reach new people.

Doing Good For All People

10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. — Galatians 6:10 (NASB95)
Ancient Hebrew wisdom describes four levels of charity. The highest level is to provide a job for one in need without his knowledge that you provided it. The next, lower level is to provide work that the needy one knows you provided. The third level is to give an anonymous gift to meet an immediate need. The lowest level of charity, to be avoided if at all possible, is to give a poor person a gift with his full knowledge that you are the donor. – Robert D. Lupton, Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life (Regal, 2007), p. 26
Ancient Hebrew wisdom was truly wise. Their highest level of charity not only provided the help needed, but enabled a person to hold on to their self-respect at the same time. That’s more important than you might think.

Anybody who has tried to help the poor knows it’s not easy. There are those who, because of life’s circumstances, find it necessary to ask for help. There’s a great deal of shame involved, even though there’s nothing really to be ashamed about. Those people are also some of the most appreciative to those who lend a hand.

But those are not the only ones who need help. There are a great many in today’s world who were born into a society that seems to have locked them into a life of poverty. They don’t know anything but how to work the “system” to survive. You can say what you want about a benevolent government, but sometimes, all the well-meaning handouts in the world won’t give a person a sense of self-respect, nor will it teach them how to rise above the bottom.

There are others who, for whatever reason, just choose to live with nothing. Give them something and they’re likely to sell it for drink or drugs.

All of this is greatly over-simplified here. Space is insufficient to accurately, fully, and sensitively address the issues of the poor. And yet, we’re called upon to be gracious in the way we treat people, to help the poor, as best we can, to do more than just survive. It’s a hard job. You can’t help some people. Try as you might, it will drain you and leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. But you can help some.

Here’s what makes all this harder still - you can’t know which person you can help and which you can’t until you try. It would surely be easier if there was some telltale sign, but there isn’t. Maybe the helping spirit is more about us than the person we help. If we remember that, we’ll always do the right thing, for all people.