“We somehow think that the church is here for us, we forget that we are the church and we are here for the world.” -Erwin McManus
A few weeks ago, I was giving a new friend a ride home. My friend is a new Christian who happens to be African American, who normally walks everywhere he goes, and has a life that is much different than mine. Which is why I asked him as many questions as possible about what life is like for him in Abilene. Then I asked a question that I learned to ask during my days of jail ministry.
I asked him what he thought about the police.
If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book “David and Goliath” than you may recall a story in there about how a police chief in Harlem bought Christmas turkeys for entire “at-risk” neighborhoods. In his usual quirky and interesting way Gladwell weaves together several different stories that all came together at the end with a single point:
The problem, Gladwell says, with many of our social institutions today is that they are no longer seen as legitimate.
And this is the reason I asked my friend what he thought about the police. It’s not because I question the Abilene PD, I’ve gone on ride-alongs with them, I worship with several of our police officers and the Chief of Police is a friend of mine.
The reason I asked was because I wanted to know how he viewed the police. Did he think that they were good for the world or not? More specifically, did he think that they were good for his world?
The Church and the World
It’s been said that over the past hundred years the debate between liberal and conservative Christians has really been about trying to save the world (liberals) or save people from the world (conservatives). I think that’s a good way of framing this. Mainline Christians have tried to address all the social evil in the world, and Fundamentalist’s worked to address the individual evil that is in each one of us. Both of those things are really needed, but unfortunately we could never really work out how to care about both.
But if we are going to put an end to our bloody social media debates and our endless name calling we must learn to.
A question that I’ve heard a lot lately from people, and one I see in the public discourse for our culture wars and conversations about things from gay marriage to abortion is the unspoken question: “Is the Church really good for the world?”
Now, obviously I’m biased toward that question…actually biased isn’t a strong enough word.
I am very hopeful in the God of the Church. Even a cursory look at Christian history will show that the Jesus movement has blessed the world in a million ways. From our ideas of human rights, to women’s suffrage, to slavery abolition to way Americans work. All of this has been influenced and blessed and shaped by the Church.
But while our grandparents may have known that, this age does not. And since perception is reality, I think we have to begin answering the question again, “is the church good for the world…still?”
Common Good Jesus People
Here’s what that means for our public conversations…Christians need to keep in mind that we are drinking from wells that we did not dig. The Irish monks who saved civilization, the Churches who started Universities and Hospitals and Leprosoriums and Shelters and Ministries to the Poor they did that as a way to serve God in their age. We need to keep reminding people of the Churches (tainted, but also very positive) history of what serving God for us has looked like.
But people don’t need just a history lesson, they need to see what serving God looks like for us today too.
Outside of the political debates, which I’m not advocating we entirely withdraw from, but that we keep in proportion to our other acts of service for God.
This is why Mother Theresea was able to say things about Abortion that people were able to hear. Who can argue with a saint? People disagreed with her, but they never doubted that she was good for the world, or that the God she believed in was good for the world.
It’s why at Highland, we talk about adoption ten times more than we mention abortion. We don’t have a Pro-life Sunday, if Sunday is when God raised Jesus from the dead than every Sunday means God is for life. The church I work at started Christian Homes because we believe that this is the best way to help life flourish.
I understand the push back here. Maybe you are thinking, “but we have to take a stand or fight for truth.”
That’s right. We do, when we have a platform do speak about things that are important to God for the sake of human flourishing we do.
Here’s my problem, we don’t have to fight for that platform. We have to earn it.
And we do that by serving God who cares for the world.
The Church is a legitimate force for good in the world. I’d bet my life that you wouldn’t like the world if Jesus hadn’t been born. I have a front row seat to how God is using Christians to bless people all over my city and this country. I just wish that everyone could see what I see.
I see people serving all over the city to make it better. From the mayor to the nurses to the teachers and lawyers, restaurant owners and non-profit ministries of charity. I see people fighting sexual trafficking and adopting babies. I see them voluntarily entering jails to minister and mentoring fatherless children, or adopting refugee families.
I see people pouring their life out in service to God and their neighbor. But you see their Facebook status.
And if you didn’t see both, you’d have a legitimate complaint.