Let me first say how much I love to see the ministry of the church in the news – to know that the followers of Jesus are making a difference is a great thing. Then let me say, I’m saddened by the media coverage and the quotes. Our social gospel is being depicted as “good news! – there are nice people in the world.” I saw a quote in a story about youth doing UMARMY that was something like this (I am not using the actual quote and link because my desire is not to embarrass individuals, but to encourage the church):
Campers are doing what they can to repair homes and help others.“It’s the best thing to come and help others…” said one young man.
“You learn a lot even though it takes some of your vacation. You leave feeling good about what you did.” explained another youth.
In the story there was no mention of Jesus and the power of God at work in the lives of others. It sounded like the gospel of good works. Sure, it may have been the reporting, I don’t doubt that, but still it saddens me that our message is lost.
Consider this from Acts 3 after Peter and John heal a lame man (verses 12b & 16):
12…Peter said to [those who were amazed]: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? … 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
How often do we as followers of Jesus miss the opportunity to make these statements? How often do people praise our good works and we say thank you and then go on to explain how we think these acts of kindness really do as much, if not more, for us than those we served? “It really was a blessing for me.” True as that may be, is our message one of good news or good works?
As the United Methodist Church, and other denominations, strive to stem the tide of decline, I fear we are off-message. We seem to spend more time trying to point to the benefits, positive energy, and good works of our church, and not near enough time pointing to the one who transformed us in such a way that we even want to do such things. I fear we will end up feeling good about our efforts, others will feel better about their homes and their ability to get in and out of those homes in safety, but, no one will know the possibility of the transformation that can happen within them.
This is not an either/or issue. It should be both/and. Peter and John healed a man and changed his physical existence and improved his daily living. But, when others began to look at them like they were something, they were quick to tell the gospel story and to declare Jesus as the one who does the work changing lives. As a follower of Jesus I wonder if I am ready and able to do as they did. Likewise, can we, as the church, begin to more boldly proclaim, not the good works, but the GOOD NEWS?
While people need safe homes and a hand up, there is nothing greater to offer than our testimony of how God changes us from the inside out – a witness to the love and grace of God available to all who would say yes. Don’t forget to tell them about Jesus.
Holy high five to you, Mike.