I think I should probably limit the scope of what it is I’ve been pondering lately. What it boils down to for me is understanding our individual responsibility to Matthew 28:19.
As I’ve said a couple times before, its apparent to me that individual Christians have, in general, relinquished their individual responsibilities to what they view as the church. (And as an aside, I don’t really talk about anything in this topic that I haven’t seen in, or struggled with, myself, so if I sound accusatory, understand that I’m accusing inclusively!)
What I mean by this is that we’ve forgotten how to serve on our own. Most (or at least, many) of us are pleased to be involved within our churches if asked. And somehow we’ve forgotten that being in our church does not necessarily mean that we are making the best use of what God has given us.
Yes, there are lots of good local churches who have an external focus, as well as an internal one, so if we sign up with them, and are obedient, we may get the benefit of their external focus. But we shouldn’t forget that we arrived there only because our “church” told us too.
Our current church, for example, is in great shape. We have a healthy congregation of believers who are actively involved in the church, we serve our community in more ways than I can count, and we support over 2 dozen international missionaries. And serving in one of those capacities can provide great opportunities for individuals to live out the Great Commission. But living it out as a side-effect of being involved in a church is not the same as living it out personally.
What happens when that church organization is absent from our lives? What happens in our day-to-day routine when there isn’t a church staff member directing our attentions? What happens if God sends us to another country where we don’t have the benefit of a constantly available organization to direct and shape our obedience?
Another thing I should clarify is that nothing I’m talking about requires a complete redirection of our lives. Not everyone is called to full-time ministry, and not everyone is gifted for it. I’m a software developer. I have other interests and other skills that I enjoy pursuing, and may one day get to use professionally, but its fairly clear to me that my primary professional pursuits will be technology. And its fairly clear to me that God has blessed me in this area. But that doesn’t give me the right to walk past hurting people and ignore them, just because I’m not a professional minister.
No, in fact, our duty is the opposite. And we needn’t wait around to be told (again) to do it — read Matthew 25:34-46. This, in fact, is each of our primary purpose: Love God, Love Others. And I italicized those two words because that’s whats most important about all of this:
– Our primary purpose: Not our local church’s (except that each of us are a part of the Church.) We’re not instructed to wait around until our pastor tells us that its Community Service Day before we do anything about the hurt of those around us. Each of us is expected to take responsibility for it in our own lives. Not because we love other Christians. Not because we love acting righteous. Not because someone at church told us we should. We should do it out of a natural expression of love for our God. Its OUR love for God that compels us to act — not our church who is asking for our obedience.
– Our primary purpose: What we do for a living is not our primary purpose. Hopefully we work at it in a way that is honoring to God, but its what we do when we’re free from responsibility that indicates the leanings of our heart. I can be the best employee in the world, and I can volunteer all my free time at church, and still miss my primary purpose: experiencing the love of God and sharing it with those around me.
When I’m in love with God, I will feel His heart for others. When I feel that, but do not love others, then I have failed at my purpose. I have failed at the two most important commandments in the Bible! (Matthew 22:37-40)
If we wrap our heads around this, it can change how we live our lives, it can change how our churches work, and it can change our politics and our world view. If we truly governed and led with Christian values — not Conservative, not Republican — but actual Christ-like values, where love comes first, everything would change.
In fact, the next biggest challenge I’m struggling with, once we’ve bought into this, is how can we differentiate ourselves from the secular world who is doing a better job than we are at offering this kind of love to the hurting? If it were only Christians handing out sandwiches to homeless people, or running soup kitchens, or doing relief work after natural disasters, then we’d have no problems. But Christians won’t do these things until someone organizes them, and instructs them, so the secular world has picked up the slack. And now, when we do show up to help out, what do we have to offer that demonstrates how great Christ’s love is? When we are no more compassionate than our non-Christian neighbors, and in fact, are comparatively deficient in initiative and personal responsibility, what makes our contributions unique?
We should absolutely go to our churches, participate, help out, contribute to that local family, give and receive instruction and leadership.
We should absolutely do the best we can at our jobs, and function within them with Christian ethics, and seek to honor God and our employers. And we should absolutely give back to God what He has blessed us with.
But what do we offer to “the least of these?” What do we offer to the people to whom we are not accountable?
Its what we do when there’s no one telling us what to do that I am most concerned with.
And when the world looks at us and sees us an ineffective, self-righteous, unloving, ignorant, afraid and stuck in our own little communities, they are not seeing Christ. And you needn’t look very far to discover how seriously we, as individuals, are failing.
If we’re ready to change this, my suggestion is that step 1 is to shut up, and step 2 is to dig in. But that’ll have to wait for another post…