A well-known pastor of a large church recently responded to some criticism because some of the church staff had a meeting with the mayor. This is the quote: “Some of our pastors had a meeting with the mayor of [Grand Rapids], which was simply for the purpose of asking who the most forgotten and the most hurting in our city are. The mayor had several very specific answers, and so we’ve actually reorganized a whole area of our church, putting the majority of our efforts around trying to take care of the worst problems in our city. I don’t know if you would say that’s political or not, even though it involved meeting with the mayor, but if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.”

Read the last sentence again, “ . . . if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.”

I’ve been following the comments in the blogosphere for three weeks and have been amazed at how easily well-meaning Christians can be sidetracked. It happens in small, local churches as well. We know what we are called to be and do as a household of faith, but we get wrapped up in arguing among ourselves to the degree that nothing is accomplished.

In order to stay on track; in our pursuit of what really makes a difference; one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is, “What is changing for the better in our community because we are here?”

Are hungry people being fed? Do people who need help paying the electric bill get assistance? Are there children at school who need a coat? Did the single mom who just moved into the area get an offer of free child care so she could hunt for a job?

Wait, before you protest, I know the churches whose leaders get this email average less than 55 in attendance and have limited resources. I spent eleven years in a small church where budgets were tight and there were always more needs than dollars.

But we didn’t let our small numbers limit our love and care for the community.

We joined forces with the local ministerial association. (I still live in the area and remain a member of this association even though I am not pastoring a local church.) This group is comprised of churches in our rural school district and includes mainline, evangelical, pentecostal, and independent pastors. Although there are great differences in theology, doctrine and polity, we are able to agree that as representatives of Jesus Christ, we should make a difference in the lives of people with physical needs.

In the past ten years the pastors and churches who are part of our association have witnessed God provide resources in ever increasing amounts and we have used that money to assist people with needs. The magnitude of that outreach is greater than any one of our small churches could have possibly imagined or managed on our own. Yet together we can honestly say our community is a better place now than 10 years ago or even six months ago.

This past Christmas we were able to help 45 families with 128 children at a cost of $9850.00 – and there’s still money in that account! Every month we have the privilege of helping people who need help paying for heat, or making a rent payment, or a myriad of various needs. Do we sometimes feel that we’re being taken advantage of? Yes. But we would rather be generous in the name of Jesus than stingy. After all, its His money.

We even help stock a special closet at school. Have you ever thought about what happens when a child has an “accident” at school and the parents are at work or maybe don’t have transportation to get clean, dry clothes to their child? The ministerial association makes sure the school has the funds to keep clothes on hand for just such an emergency.

The school knows they can count on the churches. Can you imagine how they respond when we come to them with a request?

Jesus makes our responsibility to take care of the “least of these” very clear in Matthew 25:31-46.  It should challenge our priorities to be reminded that we won’t be judged on how well we kept up our buildings, or how many prayer meetings we had, or if the parking lot was paved, or how many attended the Sunday night service.

So I conclude with the same question, “What is changing for the better in your community because the Gospel is being lived out?”

Note: I fully expect that some of my readers will get upset and conclude that, “Jim is starting to preach a social gospel! – He’s becoming a liberal!”  That seems to be a small but consistent reaction any time church folk are challenged to look beyond themselves.

Together in Christ,

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