By: Joe Caruso, Pastor of Mobilization at Grace Church in Akron, OH
Look around you. Whether you’re looking at your family, your neighborhood, or the world news showing the depths of global poverty, more of Jesus is needed there. His compassion and his message are desperately lacking. The world is full of people with a seemingly daunting amount of need; hurting people, broken families, and a nearly infinite amount of struggling communities.
It seems Christ followers should be doing something, right? Well, yes, as over 650 verses in the Bible are calling God’s people to engage the poor, oppressed, sick and abused. Jeremiah says it profoundly, “‘He cared for the cause of the poor and needy… isn’t that what it means to know me?’ says the Lord” (22:16). There’s really no argument. Whether economic, spiritual, institutional, cultural, or social, nearly everyone agrees that something should be done. But how?
As we pursue being a part of something greater than ourselves – something of eternal significance and something that leaves a God-honoring legacy – we must engage strategy, wisdom, and intentional action.
Here are 3 things to consider:
Am I involved and actually engaging the mission? Get plugged into a serving opportunity in an area that you’re passionate about, seeking discipleship from your leaders so you can grow through serving and become more like Christ. This will help you to experience firsthand what living out the Gospel is all about. God challenges us throughout the scriptures to engage the poor (Prov. 14:21, 31), to serve (Luke 4:8; Prov. 29:7), to love through our actions (James 2:14-20), to reach the world (Acts 1:8) and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:17-20). He calls for maturity (Eph. 4:1-16; Heb. 6:1) and offers wisdom (James 1:5). And he works within the context of order, plans and obedience (Gen. 1; Jer. 29:11; John 14:15). We must strive to follow those heart cries.
What impact is actually being made? The goal is to help those we serve make progress towards true self-sufficiency and God-dependency. When serving anyone from individuals to whole communities or regions, it is important that those being served have been empowered rather than enabled, and that the dignity of those being served has been reinforced, not diminished. In our media driven culture, there are so many ways to respond. Text this number to donate. Buy these shoes. Don’t wear shoes. This watch is a symbol of hope and proceeds go to charity. Run this 5K. Eat at this spaghetti dinner. Donate blood. Purchase the shirts with the red tag. Serve at this soup kitchen. Talk to the cardboard-sign-holding hand-waver on the corner. Give an extra dollar to the food bank buy tacking it onto your hamburger bill. But sometimes, all we have to show for that desire to make a difference is a new pair of shoes, a worn out shirt, and a higher cell phone bill. There are no reports of our good deeds, and we don’t see much for our efforts. (not that seeing results is the only reason to do good). If lives are really changing and families are healthier and community vision is strengthened, then we know that the part we are playing is truly making a good impact.
Is it strategic; am I doing things that actually move towards the vision of God and his people? If we serve the poor practically but don’t share with them the love and story of Jesus, or don’t represent the heart of God accurately, we are leaving them short-changed. As followers of Christ, we must not only individually speak words of truth as we serve, but we must also work together as the body of Christ, striving to understand each other (different parts of one body (1 Corin. 12:12-30), working towards like-mindedness & loving each other well, while also loving those we serve well.
When trying to implement change, focused energy makes the difference. When we concentrate our efforts together in a smaller area, progress can actually be made. If we will evaluate our individual efforts honestly, we must realize that we’re not fighting issues, but helping people. We’re not “ending” homelessness, we’re helping “Leon” actually get off the streets. We’re not helping the poor country, but we’re connecting with children and families in a village helping them find solutions for the long haul. Jesus promises that, “the poor you will always have with you,” so we must reserve ourselves that we are called not to prove him wrong, but to help individuals escape. In the same way that salvation is offered to the world, but received by the individual, aid for the poor is best offered to individuals and on smaller populations (families, villages…), while being available for anyone who is willing as we all work together.
But what about changing the world? What about making a wider, broader, global impact? What about reaching as many people with the basics of salvation and care and then praying the rest works out? What about serving as a catalyst to spur deeper work? What’s wrong with that? Well, probably nothing, but understand this: serving more deeply (and the models that come from deeper strategies) can create examples for when things are ready to go wider. Wider things rarely, if ever, have the deeper things figured out, which translates into a limited rate of multiplication and growth. It becomes additional be default. But, when something is taken to completion or full fruition of vision, then there’s something to replicate, something that others can grab and take around the world. Wider is good, but only when the depth of change is what’s being spread.
Let’s allow our actions and efforts to drive deeper, and then, as we work more deeply together, our exponentially multiplied efforts can take us to making a global difference.