Something has gotten me pretty bent out lately. I’m concerned about the American church. We’ve lost our mission, we’ve lost our purpose, we’ve lost our focus. Now wait a minute, before you click away, hear me out.
The church has a tendency to be really faddish and gimmicky. 50 years ago there weren’t any praise bands or praise teams. Using a projector to display song lyrics, well that hadn’t been invented yet. Now don’t get me wrong. There have been some great innovations in the church. For many churches though, we’ve redefined what success is, we’ve redefined what service is, we’ve redefined what people need, we’ve redefined ministry, we’ve redefined church.
What has me going is the growing trend for churches to engage in social services as the focal point of ministry. We’re providing dental care for people who may not have access to it or can’t afford it, we’re providing tutoring so people can get a GED, we have exercise classes, clothes closets, food pantries, and now the latest? A tattoo parlor in a Michigan church. When a church changes their focus from disciple making (Matt. 28:19-20) to providing social services, we’ve failed. It is absolutely okay to provide these types of services as long as there is an intentional process to move from providing something that you give a person (a meal, a sweater, a bicycle, eyeglasses) to an opportunity to share the life changing truth of Jesus Christ. If all you do is give someone something, then you’re just doing is a good deed. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not call it a ministry when the name of Jesus Christ is never mentioned and there is no plan to do so. Let’s not do a bait and switch either. That’s when people come for a meal and you preach to them for an hour before you feed them.
“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matt. 6:3) Jesus said, “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” (Matt. 26:11) We should absolutely help the poor and needy. There will always be poor people and we must help them. Jesus said when you help someone that is needy, you’re actually helping Him. (Matt. 25:35-40) We will will continue to engage in good deeds; we’ll continue to be sensitive to what people in our area need. But let’s change the focus of these services. Instead of asking, “What can we do for them,” let’s ask, “What can we do with them.” Let’s partner together with the leadership of housing projects, apartment complexes, and other churches to see how we can work together to meet people’s needs. When we continually do for people, an entitlement mentality develops where the good deed turns from a nice thing to do into an expectation.