Phil is a teacher in your church. He’s married with two small children. His wife cares for her sick mother. They are busy parents and they have no time during the week to volunteer for any of the social action projects run by the church.
Week after week, Phil listens to announcements in church extolling the virtues of the food bank, the café for Internationals and the debt centre. He feels left out.
What will you say to him?
One of the questions which arises with social action is this one: should a social action project always include a mention of Jesus? Phil thinks the gospel of God’s grace is getting lost in all the activity. He’s worried that Jesus is playing second fiddle to rotas, donations, volunteers and the numbers game. 400 people fed. 25 people out of debt. But are any of these coming to faith? Isn’t that the goal of the church? To produce converts?
Questions like these stir our emotions. We find ourselves siding with one side or the other. Perhaps, however, it’s best to ask how such questions could possibly have arisen. How have we reached a point where we’re pitting bodily care against soul care? Greek philosophy split the body and the soul. In the early years of the church, another belief system, Gnosticism, went so far as to cast the body as evil, irredeemable. Far better to reach for a higher plane of consciousness. The Bible, rooted primarily in Jewish thinking, instead affirms the value and integration of both body and soul.
When Jesus carried out his public ministry, he cared for both body and soul. The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God in the whole person. So . . .
1) Whenever you catch wind of any mood within your church which pits body against soul (or vice versa), it must be called out and corrected. Social action projects are not better than bible studies. Caring for a sick parent has just as much value as the evangelist, who in turn is no more important than the person serving coffee.
To help with this teaching . . .
2) 1 Corinthians 12. Preach it a lot. We are all given different gifts. We all have a part to play in the body of Christ. Affirm and celebrate the value of everyone in your church. Working in a bank, a hospital, caring for children, studying, God is at work in all our lives when we trust him.
All this leaves that thorny question I mentioned last time. Should Jesus always be mentioned during social action projects?
In a word, no. But with qualifications.
1 John 3. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Caring for the body is an expression of the love of God. Caring for the poor is especially dear to the heart of God. Christ did not always speak of repentance and faith. He treated the person before him with compassion. Social action, so-called, is a vital function of the church, demonstrating the new life we have received in Christ, displaying his love for the world.
Is repentance and faith, Christ’s sacrifice for sins of no account? Of course not. Absolutely not. Paul writes in the book of Romans, ‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?’ Rom 10.14.
Should we take every opportunity to share the wonder of God’s love in Christ, the new life that can be found through surrendering our lives into God’s care? Of course we should. But patrolling social action projects to ensure that Jesus is mentioned sufficiently is clearly not the answer. The job of the leader is to equip and release the saints for the work of ministry. It’s also to teach. So if you’re a leader, it’s your job to teach clearly about God’s compassion for the whole person.
Both body and soul.
Phil, our teacher, is seeking an answer. He wants to know that his life means something. And of course it does. Don’t allow him to feel left out. He needs to be reminded that each person in the congregation is valuable, cherished by God. Social action projects are not privileged activities, any more than bible studies, evangelism and coffee preparation. Leaders must not allow their congregations to see these activities competing with each other.
Because we are both bodies and souls, we are ALL called to different expressions of God’s love. Teaching, caring for parents, feeding the poor, studying, working, it’s all essential in God’s world.
Good leaders will affirm the value of each member of the body. Those with and without jobs, those old and young, those in need and those with plenty. God is at work in bringing in his Kingdom. We are a body, in desperate need of each other. But the one who is essential to all of us is the Head. The Lord Jesus Christ.
When I come to church, I want to learn about Jesus. And I want to be encouraged by what He is doing in and among all of us. In the wonderful variety that makes up his body, the church.
He is the one who unites us. Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
To Him be the glory.
This week, we're releasing the second of Alan Palmer's articles on ministerial burnout. His two articles are an excellent resource if you're feeling stressed and overworked. View the second article here. Living Leadership exists to help leaders who are overburdened. View our Refresh ministries to find out how we can support you.