Discussion in Christian circles has been buzzing over the upcoming movie, Believe Me. For once, Christian filmmakers are actually satirizing Christian organizations instead of exalting them. In place of the happy-ending Newsboys-as-product-placement concert in God’s Not Dead, Believe Me approaches Christian concerts and charity events from a quite different angle, highlighting that sometimes the leaders of such organizations are charismatic non-Christians hoping to make a buck. “Why do people go to charity events?” one character asks. “Because they want to help people,” another character offers. The lead swindler’s response? “Wrong. They want to feel like they’re helping people.” I think that’s a pretty thought-provoking perspective that Christians should consider.
Last year Christianity Today reported that Christian giving is on the rise, as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) reported $11 billion given to their accredited organizations in 2012. I praise God that Christians are giving, and that overseeing organizations like ECFA exist, but I think it’s time Christians examine our heart’s intentions for how we steward our money and time. I’d like to argue that more often than not, the most effective and humble ways to serve are not tax-deductible and they do not count for community service hours.
Churches minister best when the service is organic and not mechanistic, when it’s people and not programs that are doing the work. Organic service to others---stemming not from an organization but from the individual or the local church---is usually the kind that goes unnoticed. At the end of the year when you’re organizing receipts and looking at the highlights of your year, it always feels good to say “I spent $500 on the child I sponsor, went on mission trips to Honduras and Ukraine, and I gave $100 worth of food for hungry American families!” Indeed, those can be great ways to give of one’s resources.
It’s harder to quantify evidence of babysitting for the single mom in our neighborhood or sharing the gospel with the guy next to us on the plane or buying some groceries for the unemployed family in our church. Everyone loves posing for a before-and-after haircut picture when making a donation to Locks of Love, but there’s nothing to post on Facebook about when we make dinner for an acquaintance who has cancer.
Sometimes I think about the support letters missionaries send out when they say what they’ll be doing in the new lands to which they’re moving. I then wonder what I would say if I was raising support to do what I am now, in the suburbs of Tampa. Regrettably, I feel like if I had that official “missionary” title, I’d have a much longer list of things I’m doing intentionally to show Jesus to the people in my city. In that case, people would be knowing about my prayer-walking and relationship-building and time-giving. But in my life now, people won’t see the time I spend talking to a hurting neighbor; they might only notice that I neglected to clean my house that day. Thus, without the praise of men, I don’t have as much motivation to do what Christ has called me to do.
A lot of times we might also think our only responsibility is to get people into the church building’s doors. An invitation to church is all too often the first thing we offer people we meet; we should first invite them into our lives. That’s what Paul did with his ministry: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (2 Thess 2.) Ephesians 4 says the purpose of pastors and evangelists is not to magnetically attract all the local nonbelievers and struggling Christians and preach a sermon that will change their lives, but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” We as Christians have one ministry---not 5 million---and that is to make Jesus known.
Mission trips, block parties, and big rallies can hardly be as truly transformative and effective as plodding along in the mundane. Indeed, I’ve gone to some great conferences (I cannot wait for the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference this weekend!) but no message I’ve heard from a speaker---and trust me, I’ve learned a lot from speakers---has impacted me as deeply as exhortation I’ve received from the women in my own missional community. Their encouragements from scripture might be more simply stated but I’ve seen their lives and I know their struggles. Hearing someone I know stumble through reminding me of the gospel speaks much louder and deeper to me than a famous speaker’s eloquent and practiced sermon tends to.
I’ve met a lot of people who might say things like “I spent a summer in India”,"Oh, what'd you do?", "We reached out to the community and did discipleship." But here in their everyday, their professors and bosses are unimpressed with their shoddy work ethic, and their classmates and coworkers are put off by their I-wish-I-wasn't-here attitude. We can just become so compartmentalized. We think that mission was something I did for a season of life or is something that I want to do sometime. We don't think it’s something that happens every day, through inglorious means such as handing a tissue to a weeping friend (or a boogery toddler.)
May we press on towards true discipleship of others, even though it’s time-consuming, messy, and oftentimes discouraging. How much lasting, persevering disciple-making can really take place in a one-day event? We like the “go to the nations” part of the Great Commission where we can say “Six people prayed to receive Jesus today at the orphanage!” but we don’t like the “make disciples” command where we have to sit with and encourage the believer who doesn’t feel like getting in the Word anymore. Christ’s aim for the kingdom is disciples, not decisions, and actual disciple-making is a lot harder.
But that is so the character of God. The least will be the greatest. The goal is for Jesus to be known, and He’s the one who is causing us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). We are just ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor 5) bringing rebels back to their creator. It’s a glorious mission, our commander is always successful, and we have the Holy Spirit powerfully working within us.
So may we give of our time and money to organizations, camps, conferences, etc., sure, but may we also look for where there are needs in our own neighborhoods and local churches. (I’m sure grateful that the women in my church gave their old baby clothes to me and not to Goodwill!) Instead of dishing out money to tons of missions organizations, let us give money and M&M's to the missionaries that our own church is sending out (and we may we talk to them and pray for them too!) May we joyfully follow this command to the church in Galatians: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We already have plenty of opportunities; let’s just humble ourselves and make the most of them.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today