Thursday, October 29, 2015

What do they need?

“Help us meet people and find out what they need.”  So went a story about a new church plant written by a new church planter.  It could have been written about many new church plants and by many new church planters.  It is a common strategy -- find a need and meet it.  I do not challenge that it is a good thing to do.  I do wonder, however, if it is what the Church is supposed to be doing.  In some respects I would consider this work to be domain of the individual within the community, the good works of those who belong to the Lord as they live out their lives within the neighborhoods and communities around them.  But the primary calling of the Church is to preach and teach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

I will certainly acknowledge that the churches have become better members of their communities than they once were and that many good things are being done (feeding the hungry, helping those in need, improving the character of the lives of the people around them, etc...).  When I was growing up, the focus of the congregation was much more internally focused -- upon the members and upon preaching and teaching the faith.  But I do wonder how well we are focused on the unique responsibilities and tasks assigned to the Church AND focus on the felt needs of the people who have not yet heard the Word of the Lord proclaimed to them.

It occurs to me that most congregations have limited resources and limited attention spans.  It is not bad to focus on the community and their needs but it is not good if we do this to the exclusion of what is uniquely ours to do -- preach and teach the Kingdom of God.  It is not a choice -- preach the Word or practice mercy.  But neither does mercy does not substitute for the formal proclamation of sin and repentance, grace and mercy, forgiveness and life.

I guess my problem lies with the fact that some of the churches that are great at finding needs and meeting them are not so good at speaking the language of God's Word, of calling people to repentance, of urging confession, of speaking bluntly of the cross and the sacrifice made there so that we might be forgiven, and of the call to go and sin no more (to live out the righteousness of Christ in your daily life).  We must do better.  The witness of the church must be deliberate and forthright, it must convict people as to sin and comfort the repentant sinner with the mercy of God in Christ.

Though some people think it is easier to preach and teach Christ than to get involved in the neighborhood and address the needs of people around us, I think it is just the opposite.  I fear that we have taken to heart the manifold criticisms of the spiritual but not religious and we in the Church find it very difficult, even arrogant, to address people with the full counsel of God's Word -- Law and Gospel.  I fear that making an impact in the neighborhood or community is deemed a credible substitute for the harder task of preaching the Law with the full force of its condemnation and the Gospel with its sweet gift and blessing.

Maybe I am colorblind to all of this because I have not been in a congregation that was unmotivated to make an impact in the community but I have had countless discussions with people who felt our doctrinal stance was too rigid and unbending -- that doctrine was even an impediment to ministry and works of mercy.  All I am saying is that it does not need to be and it should never be.  However, I will admit that it is much more difficult to preach forthrightly the Word that no one wants to hear than it is to find out what people want or need and see if we can supply it.  Finally, it forgets that the primary need of rich and poor, oppressed and oppressor alike, is the Law to bring us to our knees and the Gospel to raise us up on eagles' wings.  That is the need the Church is uniquely structured to meet and we dare not forget it.


Unknown said...

Pastor Peters:

Preaching law and Gospel are important; however, you must get the someone's attention before you can preach. I got your attention by posting this comment where you would see it.
Some people get the attention of new listeners by standing on a soapbox with a megaphone. I do not recommend this.
Churches get the attention of the community by having events on campus, by offering social services, etc. Attention getting is not a substitute for preaching, but a prior step.
The Apostles wanted the attention of Hellenist Jews, so they started preaching in the temple, because the Jewish/Greek culture expected people to bring new ideas to that forum.

Jon Alan Schmidt said...

The post was not about getting attention, but about meeting needs; and the greatest need of every single human being, whether it is "felt" or not (the function of the Law), is the forgiveness of sins (the function of the Gospel) - the one thing that only the Church can offer and provide.