This week as we look at meaningful commitments, we will look at a commitment to the disadvantaged and hurting. The essential attribute of a genuine Christian is love, which is to be shown in continual and practical ways toward God and other people. Interestingly, in national surveys that explore people’s criticisms of the Christian faith, the dominant concerns are that Christians fail to do enough to help other people. A recent study by Barna Group suggests that helping the poor, investing in the lives of children, supporting families, and offering effective recovery services are the most desired kinds of faith demonstrations that Americans are seeking from the Church. The study revealed that nobody listed a desire to see churches provide more worship services, Sunday school classes, small groups, stewardship campaigns, or potluck dinners, or for more believers to engage in evangelism. [Barna Group,”OmniPoll 1-11 PH”, a national survey among 600 adults eighteen or older, conducted January 2011].
For the Church in America to be taken more seriously…and be looked upon more kindly…it must exude the love that Jesus has called us to embody. While the Democrat Party was in charge of Congress, the Republican Party was derisively described as the party that is against everything and for nothing. Now that the Republicans control Congress the title has shifted. As a result the business of the nation has been put on ‘back burner’ while politicians stand their ground. The Christian Church of the United States is in danger of acquiring the same reputation if it is not careful. Most adults realize that the most vocal Christians are against same-sex marriage, against abortion, against restrictive gun control, against Obamacare, against tax increases, and against stem-cell research. But recent public-opinion research highlights that most Americans…even many Christians…are hard pressed to specify what the Christian Church supports. [Barna Group, “OmniPoll 2-09”, a national survey among 1,005 adults eighteen years and older, conducted August 2009; American Culture and Faith Institute, “RightView-6″, a national survey among 1,612 adults eighteen and older, conducted July 2014; Pew Research Center,”U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey”, September 2010, http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey]. Where the president spends his vacation or what new tattoos movie stars have acquired is treated as information that the public must know, The very real degree that Christians and ministries support and serve the disadvantaged segments of our population seems to ‘fall off the scope’. Most of those efforts are invisible to the public. While we know the name of the most recent ‘fling’ of a movie star, who is housing and feeding the homeless and what kind of resources are needed tend to remain invisible. It would appear to many that the Church is ‘off the hook’ because the government is taking care of it…busy replacing God. However, for instance, churches already invest tens of millions of dollars on free services provided to the poor…e.g. food pantries, donated clothing, medical clinics, and homeless shelters. Similarly, some of the most successful counseling services in the country are those developed by churches; Celebrate Recovery is an example of one widely recognized as a successful alcohol and drug recovery program that was birthed in the Church world and is offered on thousands of church campuses. Unfortunately, these types of efforts are not found to be very interesting to the media industry.
Research indicates that fewer than one out of six Christian adults volunteer their time during any given week to serve people beyond assisting in the management of church services and systems. [Barna Group, “OmniPoll 1-14”]. When outsiders hear that Christianity is “all about loving God and loving people”, they want to see a clear-cut and widespread demonstration of such love carried out by more than just a handful of zealots. Such love of Christ behavior softens the hearts of everyone involved: the believers who are nurturing the disadvantaged and the needy recipients who are touched by the compassion and kindness of God’s servants. It goes a long way toward eliminating the common criticism of Christians and churches as people who are ‘hypocrites”, judgmental”, and ‘intolerant”. Serving the disadvantaged includes providing for immediate needs and preparing the disadvantaged for the ability to support themselves and in turn, be able to help others. We must care that our help is not causing more damage than good.
Not everyone is cut out to minister to ‘hardcore street people’. Not every believer is prepared to interact effectively with an alcoholic or drug abuser. Some followers of Christ may not be capable of regularly visiting maximum security prisons to spend time with convicted killers and drug dealers. But there is no Christian in America who is incapable of finding a group of needy people whom they can serve in some manner. That service will go a long way toward not only reducing the need for a more intrusive government but also changing the hearts of those who serve, those who are served, and those who are observing the process with critical eyes. That impact will then open minds and hearts to more readily consider the things the Christian faith brings to bear on the social, political, and familial conditions of the nation.
Next week we will take a look at the part the church can play in recovering our “ship of state” from the “shoal waters”.
– Bob Munsey