When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, He did so with clear instructions on what they were supposed to do: teach, preach, fellowship, pray, break bread, and heal. Acts records that these are the very things that the early church was about, and its author (Luke) even tells us about some of the powerful healing encounters that Peter had with the communities he ministered to.
This is very different than what the church imagines today is her role; it is very different than the social programs we've gotten ourselves involved in.
And I'll just say it - I think the reason the church has invested herself so much in helping is because she has forgotten how to heal.
Either the church has forgotten how to heal or she no longer believes in the power of Jesus' name. When you look at some of the stuff we're doing in our world, it doesn't take much to see that we're not doing much, if any, of it any more in the name of Jesus; we're trying more to do it in the style of Him. We speak not in His name but say that we act in His good nature. We call it love, but it's not.
It's something less.
It's something less because all this helping we do, it doesn't put people in touch with the real Jesus. It doesn't give them anything of Him except our interpretation. We have to take them to Him through our actions, through a series of steps that we've taken that are supposed to somehow reveal Him, but it is much better to bring them right to Him and say, "Friend, here is your Brother."
When we put people through our programs, they don't come to know Jesus, and honestly? We don't even come to know them. They become numbers in our record books, statistics in our demographics. Maybe we remember their names, but not for any particular reason.
That's one thing that stands out in the stories of the Gospels - Jesus never once lost a man for the sake of His own glory. Us? We lose them all the time.
We lose track of them. We forget to follow up. Or maybe we don't plan to follow up at all. We don't remember their names. The bank statement comes, the money is accounted for, the numbers are in...and the people are out.
The Gospels, in stark contrast, remember them all. These stories, these accounts given to us by the disciples, were not written in real-time. They were not following Jesus around with little parchments, taking notes on all of the things He'd done. Not even Judas was tracking the numbers. Rather, later, when the disciples sat down to tell their stories, these names, these people, these scenes came flooding back to them in greatest detail. And that is because of the way that Jesus healed people, not any way that He helped them.
It's important. It's vitally important. It's not just about social programs, about helping, or about the ways that we reach our communities; at its core, it is about our theologies. As we commit ourselves deeper and deeper into the "helping" ministries over the healing ones, we present to the world, and to ourselves, a theology that Jesus is Helper, not Healer. He came to help the world, not to heal it. It's how we've gotten where we are today, where the world no longer believes in the power of Jesus' name.
The world no longer believes because the church doesn't even believe.
Again, I'm not against social programs, but we have to keep them in proper perspective. Because Jesus wasn't about programs; He was about people. He wasn't about meeting needs; He was about meeting hearts. He wasn't willing to lose people for the sake of His glory, and He was not content to settle for helping when He knew He had the power to heal.
Imagine what would happen if today's church felt the same way. Imagine what would happen if we still believed.