When we set up programs to help, not only do we lose a Jesus who knows how to heal, but we convince our members that even helping is no longer their job. Therefore, we are not healing in our own communities; we are not even helping. We're only pointing people to programs where they become just one more notch on our belts, not names in our stories.
We see this all the time. We encounter someone who is hungry, and we tell them, "You're hungry? Well, my church offers a free meal every Tuesday night! You should totally come!" And they should totally come. However, if it happens to be Thursday, Tuesday is not much help. But we feel like we've done our job; we have pointed this hungry person to the ministry that will feed them.
Or we see someone who says they just do not know how they are going to make ends meet this month. Good news! On Wednesdays, my church has a few hours just for that! All you have to do is bring a copy of your bill that you can't pay, and we've got a ministry that is designed to help you make that happen. Again, that's well and good, but what if the water's getting shut off on Monday? Wednesday is not much help. But we feel like we've done our job; we have pointed this needy person to the ministry that will assist them.
What about when someone comes to us and confesses that they are struggling with addiction? They want to get clean, but they just don't know how. It's starting to impact their lives, and they are just a few breaths away from rock bottom. No problem! We are starting a recovery group in April. You should totally come! And they should totally come, but it's January. In the next three months, we may lose them altogether; their addiction may take their life before we can ever get them to our group. But again, we feel like we have done our job; we have pointed this addicted person to the ministry that will hold them accountable.
Even in churches that do not have these programs, we tend to do the same thing. Our pastor would be happy to help you with that, we tell persons. But Friday is his day off; he won't be back in the office until Monday. Surely, you can make it through the weekend, can't you?
In terms of the work that the church is doing in this world, I think this is the most detrimental thing we have done. We have set up all of these amazing programs and people should totally come, but in doing so, we have taken the responsibility away from our members to actually do any helping or any healing in their own communities. They think their only duty now is to point people to the church, to their church, and that this is the greatest service they can do - for the people, for their church, and even for Jesus.
Jesus just loves it when we tell others the church's schedule for helping them.
It's why we have to be mindful about our use of these types of programs, and we have to make them more than just options and opportunities in the church. If we want to engage in these sorts of ministries, then we need to make it mandatory that our members understand what is really going on here - we have to make sure that the need is kept in front of them, not just the resolution.
Why? Because when our members see the hungry, rather than just knowing about the meal, they learn to see hunger in their neighbors' eyes. They begin to understand what simple grace a little salad is. And they start to think, maybe I can do that. When our members see the needy, rather than just knowing about the benevolence fund, they learn to see need in their neighbors' eyes. They begin to understand the fear, the worry, the shame of being in a needy place, and when they see what a small amount of money can do, they start to think, maybe I can do that. When our members see the addict, rather than just knowing about the group, they start to see entanglement in their neighbors' eyes. They begin to understand what a little accountability provides, and they start to think, maybe I can do that. When we require our members to be an active part of our ministries, we inspire them to engage in their own.
And we put helpers and healers back into our communities.
When we do that, the needy, the hurting, the broken in our communities don't have to wait for the church doors to be open; there are hundreds of doors all around town that they can walk through. Any time, any day. No more waiting for Tuesday; the community of Jesus is here today.