Grace Emerges

Friday, June 3, 2016

Open the Church -- Part 3B

the church

Facing the questions that will shape the church in the 21st century

by Brad Duncan

Outreach - Part B

How can the church change the world through its actions?


I doubt that many people will disagree with me at this point in the discussion.  We all strive to be better, not only through personal improvement that only we can see, but also through our behavior and actions that are visible to others.  I think of Mother Theresa - known for her faithfulness to the poorest people, known for her wisdom and her complete focus on generosity.  No one can fault her.  We would all like to see Christianity take this approach and be the face of Jesus in the world.  

So, where the discussion needs to happen is in the practical arena.  How do we answer this question in practical terms, as the local church?  How do we individually contribute to this greater cause?  How do local churches partner together on a global level, for such causes that require a large concerted effort, e.g., how do we support disaster relief or tackle humanitarian crises?  On a more local scale, how do local churches partner together in our cities to tackle big problems related to poverty and addiction?  How do we take action against social injustice rather than merely spectate?  How do we set our goals as a local church so that our community maintains an outward focus and achieves what I am talking about here?  How do we apply the Great Commandment in the 21st century?  How do we build our church around this concept, so that everything we do will lead to achieving it to the greatest extent possible?

Who and How

I feel that the discussion happens for us much like it did for for the legal expert in Luke 10.  Taking up the conversation from where we left off after the Great Commandment:  

28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” [Luke 10, CEB]

Jesus says “Just do it!  You know what to do.  Love, man” .  And the legal expert says “Sure, I know that (who doesn’t!).  But it’s complicated.  How do it I do it?  Who should I love more than I am already?  I’m a pretty good guy and have lots of love in my heart, so this Great Commandment thing doesn’t really challenge me to do anything different at all.  So is that really all? Is there something more you would recommend Jesus?  How about this question - tell me who is this neighbor person that you want me to love.  Let’s start there.  Who should I love?”

And who is my neighbor?

That’s the question, isn’t it?  The church needs to face this question.  Like the legal expert, the church wants to prove that it is right.  It is busy doing all the right things.  It’s identity as the body of Christ and the kingdom of God is tied up in loving God and others, and it is moving in the right direction.  Therefore, change is not needed.  Change, which is so uncomfortable and painful, can be avoided if we are already proven to be right.  So, we also ask this question, perhaps in the same tone the legal expert is using (a tone that is more defensive than truly inquisitive):

Jesus, and who is my neighbor, exactly?

Jesus answers this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), a tale that cuts to the heart of us as Christians, because in this story the devout followers of God fail miserably to reach out to a man injured and suffering on the road because he was robbed.  Two devout Jewish people see the man as they are walking on the road, and Jesus says that they pass by on the other side.  They don’t act, because they don’t even look at the man.  They just attend to their business.  The third person to see the man is the Samaritan of the parable’s headline, an outsider in Israel.  Not only is the Samaritan outside of the religious elite caste, but he is outside of the religious system altogether.  He takes the right action.  Jesus said “he was moved with compassion,” so he helps the injured man fully.  He tends to his wounds, and he takes him to an inn where he can be cared for.  He pays the man’s bill and pays the innkeeper a day’s wages to make sure the man is cared for.  He even says that he will return to check on the man and pay for any additional costs.  In truth, this Samaritan gives the injured man what he needs.  To do any less would have left him without proper care.  In this story, Jesus asks the legal expert, “Which one of these three people treated the injured man like a neighbor?”  

37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10, CEB]

The truth is self-evident.  When you look at the face of the injured man who will die without care, you know that he is your neighbor.  Like us, he is a child of God.  If we allow compassion to move us, we will know what to do.  On the other hand, if we “pass by on the other side”, we are failing to look, to care, and to act.  The answer is painful and uncomfortable, because we know that we more often identify with the first two devout followers of God in this story, than with the outsider who was moved to compassion.  Without trying to oversimplify my answer to this question, I would say that Jesus pointed out the key issue: if we are moved to compassion, we will know what to do.  We will make better choices.  We will know who our neighbor is, but more importantly, we will know how to help when the time comes.

If the church is one of the three people in this story, I hope that we will take the minority position and be the one more likely to offer a hand of assistance to the one in need.  When compassion is our primary response, we will know who are neighbors are.  We will seek ways to help.  We can use our creative efforts and available resources to do something that truly meets the need.  When moved to compassion, we can take the inconvenient and uncomfortable path of offering a hand to help.  We must go out of our way to do this, leaving behind our previous plans, and taking urgent action that is needed.  This answers both the who and the how.  In practical terms, we start with compassion.  We open our eyes to the person that is on the road right in front of us, we assess the need (instead of walking by on the other side) and we take the next logical step based on the need at hand, even if it is inconvenient, costly or uncomfortable for us.  It’s not really that hard, if we accept the personal cost to us that a heart of compassion may bring.  God can do the rest; he can bring us into those situations, show us the need, and help us understand the best way to help.  We can also learn from others who know how to help people.  In this case, the Samaritan knew how to tend to wounds.  Well, if we don’t know how to properly tend to someone’s wounds, we can seek the help of doctors and nurses. If we don’t have a way to provide shelter to the man in our own home, we can help by paying the innkeeper.  It may require a creative solution, but the point is that God will help us find that solution and will help us with the hard parts of taking actions which may be challenging to us.  God can enlist the help of others, but only if we take the first step that may be available only to us at that time.  Just like the Samaritan, if the church is moved to compassion, and seeks God for help to put our compassion into action, God will use that.  God will help us.  

God will reveal both the who and the how -- who is my neighbor?, and how do I help?.  

We know God’s heart, and we know that God is eager to find a way to help the injured man on the road, and will use the available people and resources to provide that help.  We just need to be available, and to have a heart of compassion.

In the other passages I mentioned above, 1 John 4, James 2, and Matthew 25, the who and the how are also described.  In 1 John 1, John talks about how we treat each other inside the community.  He talks about how our love for one another in the body of Christ, suggested by his use of uses of the phrase our “brother and sister”.  He says that the church was failing to provide a loving nurturing environment to it’s own people.  John is saying you can’t continue to operate like this, talking about faith and worshiping God, and yet neglecting the pain and needs of people you are with, your very brothers and sisters.  But John doesn’t exclude outsiders from this discussion. In 1 John 5, John explains why we should love all of God’s children:

5 1-3 Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-begotten. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome. [1 John, MSG]

We must remember that each of us is God’s child.  We love God, and by association we love God’s children.  Here, John is talking about all fellow Christ-followers, whether they are in our community or not.  We have something in common and we should always reach out to help our brothers and sisters.  How can we neglect them and say we are loving God?  Don’t we have to start on our home front and go good where we are, before we can attempt to do good somewhere else?  John is saying that as the community of Christ we should emphasize loving one another.  Like everything I described in Chapter 2, we should open our eyes to the people around us and create genuine community, rather than focus only inward or upward in spiritual or religious activities.  We should Love God by Loving People.

This brings up a good point: we should never neglect our own family, or our own community, out of a duty to help strangers and show compassion to meet the needs evident in the world.  To do so would be hypocrisy.  Our love for God shows in our love for others, period.  We love where we have the opportunity, and certainly that opportunity starts at home.  The opportunity continues in our relationships with others and in community with fellow believers.  We should act on that opportunity and provide a safe, nurturing, loving environment for our families, friends and community.  As I pointed out before, when we do this, then as a group we can set our focus on compassion and look to outsiders.  We can see that our compassion must not remain inwardly focused but should also be able to see the injured man on the road, the man who is not in our family or community, but needs our help.  From the position of strength, having our needs met in community, we will be able to use our resources to help the outsider.

James also mentions the who and the how.  He singles out orphans and widows in James 1, and helping them in their difficulties.  In James 2 he talks about our friend, our brother or sister, who we run across and obviously needs clothing and food.  The need is evident, the person is someone we claim to care about, and the solution is obvious -- give them clothing and something to eat!  The widow or orphan has no livelihood and needs to depend on those with more resources to help them.  James indicates that the person that we are already very aware of in obvious need, is in fact our neighbor that Jesus was referring to.  The course of action is obvious: care for them.  Do it for Jesus, do it out of our love for God.

In Matthew 25, Jesus also describes the who and the how as being self-evident: Jesus says that in life we run across people that are in need.  He uses the imagery of saying that each of those people is Jesus himself reaching out to us.  The obvious implication is that if we love God, we will see the face of God in each person in need, and we will naturally be moved to compassion. Jesus will receive that compassion as being Love for God, not only Love for Others.  The who and the how are both described:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’ [Matthew 15:34-36, MSG]

These are not only our family members, those in our community, or even necessarily believers.  In Jesus’ parable, he is already talking to believers who are facing Jesus to describe what they did with the opportunities they were given.  He is not necessarily saying that the needy people that wear the face of Jesus are believers, instead he implies that they were strangers, outsiders, just people in need. If he was talking about how we treat one another in community, he would have used words like “one another” or “brothers and sisters”.  Instead, he suggests that the face of Jesus is EVERYWHERE, on the streets, in prisons, in hospitals.  Everywhere that someone is in need, the face of Jesus can be seen.  Like the injured man on the road in Luke 10, we need to open our eyes to the need right in front of us, and instead of passing by on the other side, we need to let our hearts be moved to compassion.  

How can the church take up this challenge in the 21st century?  The first answer is that God will help us.  He will show us both the who and the how.  We just need to be available and have a heart that is easily moved to compassion.  We need to start with community, loving those close to us, and then by extension we will be able and available to help outsiders.

In summary, who are our neighbors?
  • Our own families
  • Our local church community
  • Our global church community
  • The person in great need that we have an opportunity to help because they are right in front of us
  • People that categorically have no means to support themselves
  • People with basic human needs that are not met, such as food, shelter and clothing
  • People that are lonely, sick or in pain, needing human companionship and encouragement
  • People that have no one to notice them or visit them
  • All the children of God, who wear the face of Jesus

What kind of help do Jesus, John and James call for?
  • Give people in the kingdom of God love and encouragement rather than judgment or petty competition
  • When you see a person in need, meet the need the person has
  • Provide for people with no means to support themselves
  • Give generously to those with basic human needs
  • Provide love and companionship to the sick and lonely
  • Deliberately consider loving others as an act of loving and worshipping God, in other words, you may provide love to others with no other gain or reward for yourself other than knowing that God will receive this love as true worship.

Collective Action

How do we move from generality to specifics, in order to define our mission and sub-missions as the local church?  We need to somehow operationalize the teachings of Jesus in order to put love into practice.  As the local church, perhaps there are ways we can also align with other local churches and with churches globally to make a difference through our cooperative efforts.  

You may be feeling that the mandate Jesus made to love others is a nice goal, but nearly impossible to do.  We feel that we can’t make much of a difference, given the overwhelming need around us and around the world.  Like the legal expert in Luke 10, we ask “And who is my neighbor?” more out of desperation and an attempt to prove we are already doing the best we can.  How we can we possibly do more?  How can we make any difference in this world full of need and pain?  As a local church, perhaps all we can do is ask for a bit more of everyone?  More money, more time?  More ministries?  Perhaps we can rearrange our priorities a bit and do a better job?  

My feeling on this question is that we have a great resource available to us that we are blind to.  We pass by those in need without seeing them.  But we also fail to see our true wealth that could be used to help them, a great resource that God has provided to bring good things to the world.  What is this great resource?

Call it collective action.

Actually, like the Samaritan who was equipped to help the hurting man, we have a great resource at our disposal.  If the people of God apply all of their best resources and creativity to simply help those that they can see right in front of them, this is a vast resource, 2 billion Christians strong, or about one fourth of the world’s population!  If we organize our network of Jesus-followers for this purpose, we are unstoppable.  Can you imagine an unstoppable force for compassion?  In our vast group of Jesus followers, we have doctors, engineers, politicians, leaders, teachers, every capability needed to change the face of poverty in this world.  When these Christians need money to fund these activities, we are talking about 25% of the world’s income!  If these Christians applied a tithe of 10% of this income to helping others, we are talking about a collective action fund of 2.5% of the world’s global income.  Do we really think that we can’t accomplish very much with that amount of resource?

My feeling is that a complete realignment of our priorities, and our beliefs about worshipping God in spirit and in truth, will transform the face of Christianity.  We will move from inward and upward focus, to outward focus.  Instead of funding the preservation of our way of life, we will be able to create a network for action to change the way of life of those in the world around us.  So first, we decide to “Just do it”.  Then we gather our resources and organize ourselves.  Then we activate this network to start accomplishing things that cannot be done by individuals alone.  Then we start making a difference!  As we show this face of compassion to the world, the world will appreciate our focus and mission and will even align to help us accomplish these goals.  We can partner with groups from other religions, with civic groups and governments, with nonprofits and businesses.  The church can get into the business of generosity, and take it seriously as our primary mission.  We need to be the example of how to care.  Is this happening right now?  Does the church have the reputation as leading the way in how to creatively change the world?  I can certainly think of some Christian organizations that are doing this, but I can also see that in general we are falling behind and not leading the way.  Who is working to end poverty, improve education or provide medical care? Is it the church? Or is it someone else?  We need to mobilize for collective action as the body of Christ, applying our common mission and collective resources.

I don’t want to stop short in this call to collective action.  I also don’t want to limit the range of possibilities.  What are some things we can do, if we had the funding and the people with skills to take action?  Here are twelve areas I would like to see collective action taken by the church, and of course there are many other areas you may think of as you read my suggestions.

Sharing Network

Like the early church, which shared everything and supported each other as the gospel spread from city to city radially out from Jerusalem, we can mobilize our own communities to meet one another’s needs.  One idea I have is that we could create an online social network for local churches, to give members access to easy sharing with each other.  Think of Facebook on steroids, but managed and administered in local church communities!  Not just for sharing of ideas and photos, we could mobilize to support one another in material ways.  People could post things that they need, people could post ways that they could offer to help.  People could post utility bills for others in the church to pay if they felt so inclined.  There could be a free tutoring network.  There could be a list of people that need people to visit them, or are sick, in a nursing home, or in prison and need support from the community.  People could post many resources online in this network to help others, teach others, and support one another: resources like how-to videos, messages of encouragement, insights into the Bible, and lessons on various topics.  

All of the church activities would be coordinated through a central social calendar, and all members could access this calendar and add things to it that they want to share with the group.  All of these listings would also support links and search capabilities to connect them easily and make them easy to find.  

Comments, discussion and postings will be fully supported across the network, but would be safe and secure through moderation and oversight by volunteers in the local church.  This oversight would also work hard to prevent abuse of the network by people that may not have good intentions -- their social networking privileges could be easily limited or revoked if it appears they are abusing it.  We could make sure that people know each other in person before being able to access certain social features.  Inappropriate or abusive comments would never be posted because comments would require moderator approval or approval of the person who posted the original story.  Basically, we have the technology to help people in the community fully share with one another without huge overhead.  

For me, the Open Church would be largely defined by this social network, and the online community would replace many of the functions performed today by the institutional “brick and mortar” infrastructure.  

Community Relationships

Enabled by a social sharing network, people will connect to one another and have many more opportunities to work together and communicate with one another.  However, we should never rely on remote/online connections to replace human connections.  Church events should focus on developing these relationships through nurturing, encouraging, leading, and teaching.  Church events should be organized to invest in people and relationships.  Weekly Bible study groups, youth groups, kids groups, group activities, and volunteer activities would be organized to connect people together and to do things together.  Worship services would be fun gatherings with music, celebration and sharing of ideas, perhaps with food and kid’s games happening in the background.  Community action projects would focus first on nurturing the people participating, not just on getting to work.  We would permeate every activity of the church with the mission and culture of community.  

We also need to think about new people.  They will be able to connect to what’s happening online, but they need to come to events to meet people and really get connected.  What kind of events do we have where people can feel comfortable coming to check out what we do without being put on the spot?  Our worship services and social activities should be design with the new person in mind, to be fun, unassuming, welcoming, and to provide clear information about who we are and what we are all about.

Companionship Outreach

Also enabled by the social sharing network, we should be able to identify people that do not have easy access to the community.  As Jesus said, “I was sick and you stopped to visit.  I was in prison and you came to me.”  Without intruding on anyone’s privacy, it would be possible for people to agree to be listed as being available to visit at their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes, in prisons, etc.  We should intentionally extend our community outward to those that cannot come to us.  We should mobilize to provide the simple comfort of companionship to those that clearly need it and are willing to receive it.  We can offer spiritual comfort, praying with them, offer smiles and a listening ear.  Anyone can do it!  We can all smile and listen, and yet imagine the huge difference that makes in someone’s life when they are lonely or sick, and life is not going well for them.  Imagine the huge difference that could make eventually to the community when people in the community are properly cared for, not only on a physical but also emotional level.  A community that thrives brings a great benefit to everyone.  As we help one another in their times of need, some day that help turns back toward us, when we are in need.

Education Fund, Schools and Universities

One of the greatest needs in our local communities is to ensure a future for our children, youth and young adults.  What if as a group, we simply took the job of funding their futures on ourselves?  We could provide a range of support options for providing education and gainful employment for our future adults.  One idea is to have a scholarship fund that focuses on providing low-cost or even free college education in strategic areas that support community and global economic development.  Areas like education, civil engineering, developing economies, medicine, social services and humanitarian specialties could have the largest allotment of scholarship funding available, and the purpose of this fund would be to impact the wellbeing of future generations.  

We could also offer church-organized education programs that focus on spiritual growth and humanitarian areas, teaching people about God and about the world they live in and how to work together to make a difference.  What about opening a university with free tuition?  What about foreign exchange programs?  We could sponsor our kids to learn about foreign cultures and become skilled in areas critical for the church to reach all the corners of the world.

Our education goal as a global network of local churches could be to provide education and gainful employment to any future adults that need it.  The level of support should match the need, and our kids need to have greater opportunities.  The job market and economy today is challenging and competitive perhaps more than it’s ever been, and education is so expensive that it is not necessarily a good decision to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to get an education that may not lead to a good job.  But if the church could offer a subsidized or even free alternative, many of our kids would take advantage of it.  We could have an opportunity to make a priceless investment in future generations, simply by launching a young adult on a new career.  How can we afford not to do this?  At a minimum all it would take is a scholarship fund.  Greater impact could be made by launching our own free or low-cost education programs and universities.

Parenthood Ministry

The church fails miserably at helping pregnant teenagers, young families and single parents.  This is a class of people like “widows and orphans” who have a clear lack of means to care for their own needs and the needs of their babies.  We should surround these families with all the support and care they need.  Those of us that are not in that situation certainly have some ability to support and encourage young parents.  Can we offer to provide free babysitting so that young parents don’t have to pay for expensive child care that consumes their meager paychecks?  Can we use our sharing network to provide for all the baby’s needs, so that feeding and clothing a baby is not a burden to this young family?  If the church could step up and provide this type of support, then adoption and abortion would be necessary less often.  The best way to “choose life” is to support and nurture young families at their point of crisis.  Instead of passing around shame and judgement, can’t we pass around the vital acceptance and support that these young families need?

Addiction Ministry

I am aware that many drug and alcohol recovery programs have roots in or are sponsored by religious organizations.  We as the church should take even more ownership of caring for those ensnared by addiction.  Certainly the level of help that addicts need requires the leadership and participation of professional counselors, and we need to partner with these people and organizations to provide the best chance possible for addicts to be able to fight their addiction, embrace recovery, and (when applicable) save their families from the destruction caused by substance abuse and other addictions.  Drug and alcohol use in teenagers is such a huge and relevant problem, that there is a huge need for addiction recovery supports in every community.  For example, recent statistics report that about 10% of teens have used illegal drugs at least once in the last year.  Teens and families facing the destruction and potential loss of life from illegal drugs are everywhere, in every town and in rural areas, across every social class.  The local church is best equipped to reach out and provide a safe place for nurturing, supporting and encouraging these families.  Certainly this fits well into the category of reaching out to those in the greatest need who are right in front of us, those that are rejected by society, and those that have obvious need for support.

Survivor Ministry

Another huge and pervasive area of need is domestic abuse.  Again with the help of professional counselors and organizations equipped to handle the serious emotional and practical needs of women, men and children that are currently in abusive relationships or family situations or are recovering from abuse, the church can reach out to offer a network of support, encouragement, shelter, food, and counseling.  Domestic abuse is everywhere.  If you had X-ray vision, you could see it in the houses near you.  Individuals trying to break free from these situations need somewhere to turn where they will be safe.  I’ve been a part of churches that offer weekly recovery support groups (with trained volunteers and professional counselors), and churches also support safe houses for abused women and other ministries.  We need to get creative and reach out to be a part of the solution for those that are abused in our communities.

Poverty & Community Economic Development

In order to proactively address poverty in local communities, the church can be an active participant and even take a lead role in finding solutions.  Ministries that meet people’s basic needs like food, clothing and shelter are vital to address immediate needs.  To help create longer-term solutions, the church should create or partner with organizations to revitalize local communities.  Supporting businesses, improving education, creating more nurturing communities, creating common spaces, revitalizing the arts, embracing diversity and community character and culture are all ways to address some sources of structural poverty in our communities.  We have to make it real and make it local, find out what our own community needs to thrive and apply initiative to make our own communities better equipped to provide for all those that live there.  Again, the church should be on the front lines, making a significant investment in ending extreme poverty, and offering a network of support and compassion for the “least of these” in our own towns.

Widows and Orphans

Whether in our own cities or in other countries where the need is much greater, the church can make a huge difference by building and running an orphanage for homeless children, for instance, or other type of institutions that meets basic needs (e.g., schools, clinics).  When the church is working in developing countries, employing local people to help one another also provides a source of gainful employment, education, and a growing network of home-grown supports for those in the greatest poverty.  I’ve been part of a church that built an orphanage in Kenya and created their own child sponsorship program so that those in the church can provide monthly support for a child.  The church works with the local staff and provides support and oversight, and now they are building a school as part of the orphanage.  No local church can address global poverty.  But any church of sufficient size can build a single orphanage!  This is the type of approach we need to take as the church -- take ownership of the future by doing something that provides real help to those in need.  

Human Justice

The church is starting to wake up to it’s role to help fight injustice.  The main two ways that we can make a difference is through spreading awareness and partnering with nonprofits that are on the ground taking action to help those that are unjustly treated by others in our own communities and around the world.  Speaking up as a voice for change is something we can all do, and helps spread awareness of these issues so that public opinion can change and more people can join these causes and support them through volunteering or donations.  Some example areas where organizations are working are:
  • The Fair Trade Movement: organizations are working to promote fair working conditions and worker pay to produce products that we use, across the entire supply chain, and in ways that are sustainable for the communities that produce these products and sustainable for the environment these communities are situated in.  Because many products like chocolate or coffee have raw ingredients that come from impoverished parts of the world where exploitation of the lower class is common, these countries are known to suffer from corruption and unethical treatment of workers.  Child slavery and child labor are not uncommon, and are tracked by various organizations as shown in the image below.  As consumers we have a vote in what products are ethical to buy and which ones are not.  We should be a strong voice for ethical treatment of workers and sustainable business practices, and as consumers, governments and businesses will listen to us!  If we are silent and keep buying these products, our silence will also speak loudly -- it will say it’s fine with us if our products are produced on the backs of child slaves as long we don’t know about it!
  • Human Trafficking: Human slavery and the sex trade is a lucrative business for organized crime, in conjunction with the drug trade.  Many people may not be aware of how prevalent this problem is in all countries.  Indentured servitude is still very common.  Often through false promises of being able to pay off their fare for passage to a different country, they are placed in harsh work environment with little pay where they can never pay off what they owe.   The sex trade is also a huge problem, and often girls and young women are forced to become addicted to drugs as a means of controlling them so they can be used for prostitution.  While I am no expert on this problem, I do know that organizations that are fighting human trafficking of all types need our help.  They work on the humanitarian front, working with governments and law enforcement to fight the slavery and the sex trade and rescue people out of it.  They provide supports like safe houses and counseling, and resources for getting people on their feet when they are rescued.
  • Equality & The New Civil Rights Movement: The church has a huge influence in the acceptance or rejection of discrimination in society.  Often, policies that have allowed and continue to allow racism, sexism, and other prejudices to continue are in some ways endorsed by religious institutions which represent a more conservative side of public opinion.  Issues like the current debates about immigration, pay inequity for women, marriage equality for gays, hate crimes and racial profiling, anti-semitic and anti-muslim sentiment show that as a society we are not yet able to embrace equality as a fundamental concept.  The biggest thing the church can do to help with this is to embrace all people as being God’s children, equal in the eyes of God.  We should offer acceptance for all and assistance for the oppressed and underrepresented, out of our love for Christ.  We should fight discrimination wherever it may be found.  If we share this message, we will help show the policy-makers that religion can provide moral leadership about proper treatment of all people.  We should promote equality in our country’s policies and around the world.  We should advocate peace and social justice.  The church can also provide diversity training, make sure our own policies provide equal rights to all, and support organizations that are working in these areas.  I’ll cover more about the theology and the Bible’s teaching about equality and social justice in a later chapter.
  • Many of the other areas I’m listing in this chapter are also considered human justice work, such as education, poverty, teenage pregnancy, abuse, and community development.

Change the Face of Global Poverty

Many organizations are working to change the face of poverty in the 21st century.  In areas where water, medical care, basic education, crops and livestock, are not readily available these organizations see an opportunity to make a huge difference by establishing at least a basic level of infrastructure in these areas.  Where can we NOT reach if we make it our goal to bring this basic infrastructure everywhere?  We have to do this, no matter how long it takes.

Environmental Action

I have found the church (historically) to be the last place to hear about taking care of the environment.  My opinion is that the church, especially the evangelical side of Christianity, does not have much concern about the future of our planet, perhaps because we feel we will be leaving it soon anyway and the world will end.  It’s not a very positive message to share with the world, is it, if we say we just don’t care because it will all be over soon!?  People have thought the world would end for thousands of years, but there is no Bible justification to say that our time on this Earth is limited to a few thousand years after Christ.  In fact, it offers very little to tell us what God has planned for this Earth.  Rather, the growing organic kingdom may need much more time than that to do it’s work, and continue its transformation of this planet into the very kingdom that God has intended.  In my vision of the future of this world, the church helps to end global poverty and becomes the leader rather than the follower in fighting injustice in every community and around the world.

With this broader view of the future, taking care of the Earth we live in as the vessel holding God’s kingdom should get much more attention.  As a church we should also be concerned about pollution of the atmosphere through carbon emissions, for instance.  We can all work to make a difference, and it’s time for the church to pay attention and get on board.  We should add our voice to others in the community that are working to change policies and to roll up our sleeves and improve our environment.


In summary, we need to intentionally create a mission for our local church that will help it meet needs that are right in front of us.  Answering the question “Who is my neighbor?,” we need to take action as a group to apply our available time, effort and talent to make a difference both for others in the community and in the world around us.  At the same time, this will accomplish the growth of our spiritual nature, develop the compassion blooming in our hearts, nurture true community relationships, and improve our message, credibility and reputation in the world around us..  

Twelve Missions for the Open Church
Sharing in the Community
Relationships in the Community
Companionship Outreach
Education Fund
Parenthood Outreach
Addiction Outreach
Survivor Outreach
Community Poverty & Economic Development
Orphanages, Schools & Clinics
Human Justice Awareness
Global Poverty Awareness
Environmental Action

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