Barna Group’s newest survey entitled, “Americans Say Serving the Needy is Christianity’s Biggest Contribution to Society” reveals the ineffective job the Christian church as a whole is doing. Their questions were open ended—that is the respondents didn’t pick from a preset list.
Is serving the needy a bad thing? Of course not, but if that is all we are doing then haven’t we failed miserably at what Christ charged us to do? The Westminister Shorter Catechism sets forth that charge thus, “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
The Red Cross, now totally secular, serves the needy too and there are myriad secular organizations that “serve the needy” in one form or another. Al Capone set up soup kitchens in the Depression—a good thing, but his reasons were not good—his “good” had nothing to do with serving Christ or even the people; just Capone.
While they are not mutually exclusive, serving the needy is certainly not the same as serving Christ. The case could be made that serving the needy is relatively easy. You show up someplace, handout food, blankets, coats, medicine or medical attention, or you build or rebuild something. Somewhere along the line for most Christian based organizations they try to present the gospel message along the way or even hand out Bibles. Then we pack up and go home and report to the folks at home the number of conversions. Granted this is an over simplification, but not inaccurate I think.
But—but, is what we did and the manner we did it really scriptural? Was it really efficacious in a way that matters, spiritually, for those we tried to help? Can we actually help someone in that way when we are not being fully obedient to Christ’s commands? Granted, God can work through us if He desires or more likely will choose some one more compliant. God’s will is always done–period.
Based on Barna’s survey it seems the answer to “was it scriptural” or “efficient to people spiritually” . . . is no. Nevertheless for many, perception is reality. Barna’s survey is broken down into positive Christian contributions and negative Christian contributions.[§] It is the case that the number one positive contribution was helping the needy, but it was only 19% of the sampling that attributed that to Christians. All the Baptists will be happy to know that the second place contribution was evangelism . . . with a whopping 16%. The third most valuable contribution at 14% was the shaping and protecting the values and morals of the nation.
A couple of these “positive” facets caught my attention. Firstly the numbers, the low percentage, even for the first place “helping the needy” response was only 19%. I see no particular bragging rights there or in the paltry percentage of 16 that perceived Christians advancing belief in God/Jesus Christ, that is evangelism.
However it was the third point that really seized my attention. The case could be made that if Christians were doing their job spot-on that evangelism would be the number one contribution. For a couple of reasons I disagree.
First evangelism is already over preached and under done. We preach and cudgel congregants into all manner of evangelizing. Like a golf swing without a follow through which is not only unpleasant to watch it yields a poor result. So too evangelism without discipling yields stunted Christians so what the world is seeing is a Church with little visible results and lives lived without any more commitment to Christ than an atheist’s. They are the Ryans of the world–check it out what I am talking about here.
Second, if we were “doing our jobs,” as Christians shaping the values and morals of the country would, should be number one! Stay with me here. Unarguably our world, our country is in a mess. If Christianity were really efficacious for people, both the poor and the privileged then we would not be a postmodern, some say post-Christian nation. The world would be declaring that, as Paul recounts in Acts 17:6, these men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.
Why aren’t we turning America upside down, or to reframe the question, why have we let the America be turned upside down? I believe it is because we have let ourselves become out of balance and disobedient to the Word of God.
Church members and parachurch organizations are quick enough to try (Matthew 26:11) to help those in need—a good thing. Churches and parachurch ministries are swift to evangelize—a good thing. But we are not making disciples—a very bad thing, and I might add the reason we are not effective in the world, in America, or in the culture. If you disagree show me some figures that prove we are not.
The point is we are an out of balance and disobedient lot. For some reason Christians and church leaders do not get it and I don’t get that!
[§] The negatives I will not handle here due to space requirements and most, I believe, can be attributed to prevailing “Christian mythology” due to cultural caricaturing in media bias, postmodern influence, and Islamic contempt of Christianity.