The Value of Social Engagement

helping-handsYears ago, I had the idea that we in Christianity were not only not obligated to help make this world a better place, but that it was counter-productive to our goals. Sounds crazy, right? Well, let me explain how I got to that conclusion.

I believed that social engagement would make this world a better place. But our purpose as Christians is to get to heaven and take as many people with us as we can, right? So the better this world is, the less likely people will want to hear a sales pitch about escaping it.

As (admittedly) stupid as this conclusion was, you have to admit it was logical. If heaven is the point of believing in Jesus, then we absolutely should not be a force for improving this world.

It wasn’t until I began to understand that ‘getting to heaven’ was a dumb goal that I started to reassess my thoughts on social involvement.

Only once I started to see that Jesus gave us the exact opposite goal - bringing heaven to earth - did I realize that being a force for good in this world was not only acceptable, it was actually mandatory.

I noticed 1 Peter 2:12: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

It seems to me like God wants us to give Him a good name. God knows that how people view Him will depend on what they see coming out of the people who claim to know him, love him and follow him. Doesn’t seem fair that God has put himself in a position to be judged based on dumb stuff I do, does it? But God knows that’s how it’s going to work.

Churches can focus very hard on trying to get people saved, to get them into Sunday School. What if a church focused on being such a benefit, such a blessing to the community that people thought more highly of them? So that, perhaps, they will think more highly of God?

The old viewpoint I had on working to improve the world around us was, “aren’t we just making this life more comfortable, when in reality the hardships of the this life will force them to turn to God?”

But that doesn’t seem to be God’s approach. He made Abraham a vehicle of blessing. Jesus welcomed and accepted the “disreputable sinners” who came to him seeking a relationship.

At the end of the Bible, we see that God has created peace and unity in the renewal of the earth. Our job is to reveal God’s overall plan by working to accomplish it in the communities where we live and worship. How can people know what God wants to accomplish if we don’t put it on display as much as possible?

This is a value of social engagement: that, like Jesus, we do the things we see the Father do (John 5:19): restoring the world, providing avenues of blessing, and accepting the outcast.

That we would introduce people to the kingdom of God by spreading it here on earth as far an as wide as we can - indeed, as Jesus commands - to the ends of the earth.

Church and the Local Community

Imagine that you go to a church where nobody under 6 feet tall was allowed to attend.  It’s a normal church by all other standards, there is just nobody there who is less than 6 feet tall. How would that church be different than other churches? Might it start to focus on issues that taller people deal with more frequently, such as back and/or knee problems? Would that church ignore issues that shorter people have to face? Accessibility issues for little people, for instance?

Maybe the sermons at that church would start to become tailored for tall people, since short people aren’t a part of the community.

Over time, that church probably would not be as effective in reaching the community around it which is full of people who are under 6 feet tall, right? I mean, if you exclude people who live, work and play right in the community, the church stops looking like the community and then it loses its influence, right?

In order to be effective in the goal of spreading the gospel, I believe that a church must resemble the community where it is located.

Does your church look like the community it’s found in? Are the same gender ratios in your community found in your church? The same variety of color?  Do you have business people and homemakers? What about homeless people? How about people with special needs?

Who is being excluded from your church family, either on purpose, or because you’re not making it reasonably possible for them to attend?

It’s human nature to be drawn to people who are similar to you. But when we do that in our churches, we create county clubs. Cliques that exists just to make us comfortable. I’m pretty sure that is NOT what Jesus meant when he told us to go into the world and make disciples.

The church should resemble the community because the more we relate and connect with them the more we bring the Kingdom of God to them.

In order to influence the local community, we must resemble it. Because a church that excludes parts of the community will find itself detached from the community as a whole. It will be ignored because it does not relate to or understand the community.

Just as a church with a height restriction would be laughable, so is one that only accepts the “best, brightest, and wealthiest” among us.