So, #6 on the top ten list of ways to make sure you fail in community service is a little bit of a touchy subject. But, I am not going to shy away from it, because I think this is a big sub-message of the book I just reviewed, The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns. In case you missed that blog, Mr. Stearns argues that our gospel is missing the action verbs that Jesus was so good at – healing, serving, touching, loving people who are not always easy to love or serve. He illustrates how the American church has gotten comfortable in our pews and prosperity and abandoned the job that the Lord gave for us to do. I would go one step further and say that in the US we have even, in some circles (not all!), abandoned the preaching of the gospel message to those who don’t believe in Jesus, to bring them into a relationship with Jesus. I’m not knocking anyone’s church, but I just wish that the church as a whole, and not just a select, super-spiritual few, in the US would be serious about seeing others come to know Jesus!
In a service project, shying away from the gospel message might look like these statements:
- “I’m not a preacher and I don’t know how to preach a salvation message. So, I’ll love on them instead. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that ‘they will know us by our love’?”
- “I’m not comfortable sharing my faith in this current environment, as people might think that I have become too ‘radical’ and that I don’t respect them. I want people to know that I respect their faith, yet I also want to serve others. I just don’t know how to tell them about this faith that I have without offending them or someone else hearing.”
- “If I share my faith and talk about Jesus, I risk being fired from my job. A good friend of mine, and a former prayer partner at work, got fired for telling a co-worker about Jesus at an outside party. If my boss finds out that I have shared the gospel on this project, he might fire me too. Then, who will take care of my family?”
- “I’ve never told anyone about Jesus and just don’t know where to start. No one has ever taught me either and I don’t see anyone else doing it. Maybe we aren’t supposed to do it. Maybe we should just leave that job to the professionals.”
And many more ways of rationalizing not sharing Jesus, who is the beautiful gospel message of salvation and eternal life for our world, even while we are helping others to live a better life in other ways.
So, what is the answer? That takes more than a single blog post to answer, but let’s get started. Consider these passages and we can start a conversation:
- Matthew 28:18-20 – “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
- 2 Timothy 1: 7-12 – “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”
There is a balance between proclaiming the gospel message and serving. That balance will look different in different places around the world. As you read these passages, think about the following questions:
- What is our responsibility if we obey and take to heart Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18?
- How are we to respond to fear in sharing the gospel with others, according to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy above, if we are afraid to share our faith?
If you have never done so, take a minute and write out how God has impacted your own life. Start with how you were living before you met Jesus, then write how you met Jesus. Finally, write a little about how your life has been changed because of your relationship with Jesus. This shouldn’t be any longer than about 2 minutes, as few people will listen for much longer than that. Now, find someone to practice with – a friend, prayer partner, small group member, or neighbor. Then tell someone who might not know Jesus personally. It is your story! No one can argue with what God has done in your life! And as you share your story, you will become more skilled in weaving the gospel message into it, using verses that have impacted your own life.
More in future posts about how to best incorporate community service and evangelism. First things were first, we need to get into a mindset to share the gospel!
* All verses from the New International Version, http://www.blueletterbible.com