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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:

  1. What is our responsibility if we obey and take to heart Jesus’ commands in Matthew 18?
  2. 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

World Vision’s President Richard Stearns wrote a book that came out in 2010 called The Hole in Our Gospel.  Now, World Vision has 6-session DVDs and workbooks for churches and small group studies.  In light of this recent addition, I decided to post a review of the book and some comments on the workbook, which just arrived from World Vision at my house.  I don’t have the DVD series, but it looks star-studded, so if you’ve seen it, please comment!

The Hole in Our Gospel

Mr. Stearns in this book boldly proclaims, mainly to the American church, that we have a “hole” in our gospel, meaning that something is missing from our life of faith.  This “something” is our view of and care for the poor.  Now, immediately you might say, “well, my church helps at the homeless shelter and we as a family support such-and-so inner city project.  All that is well and good, but you’ve missed the point – or maybe you should read his book to see!  In Mr. Stearns opinion, this is not enough.  These are merely token involvements because we have not allowed these interactions to affect us, to shape how we view the world and ourselves in it, and how our churches operate.  And why do we have this hole? Mr. Stearns believes that this hole is of our own making, as we have allowed our view of God to shrink to a cosmic tamed mix of Santa Claus and all-supreme but uninvolved Being.  He also feels like we have diminished the role that God calls us to play in advancing His kingdom.  Too many of our church members are sitting on the bench, waiting patiently for heaven and not activated into this great charge we have to advance God’s kingdom here on Earth.  I know this probably doesn’t describe most of my readers, but search your heart – maybe deep down it does.

Throughout the book, Mr. Stearns gives facts, statistics and reality checks to us as American Christians.  These facts and stats are mostly shocking and all true.  He tells stories about his own personal transformation that many who have been involved in overseas compassion ministries will easily relate to.  I cried many times, feeling the burdens that Mr. Stearns felt and remembering my own similar encounters, so I can say that he truly has encapsulated what it feels like as an American to be exposed to grinding poverty and walk away a changed person.  But what I like best about this book is his call for us to examine ourselves, our true situation and to allow God to change us – our motivations, desires / needs and thinking.

So, what are we to do?  Stop, look and listen would be a great start.  Stop – stop the activity we are doing “for” Jesus and evaluate our lives.  Look – around us, at the needs in our community, in our own families, and in our cities.  Listen – ask God for His heart for the poor and His solutions to the issues of our day.  As Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church says in his introduction to the workbook for The Hole in Our Gospel: “God whispers a word of insight to that pair of willing ears and then waits to see what will happen once reality of the prompting sets in.”  God is ready to speak and give insight to those who will seriously listen.  And even small steps taken in faith will have magnified impacts, because God is behind them.

The Hole in Our Gospel – workbook

The book is an easy read, challenging to someone who has never really considered such ideas as engaging in community service activities but it left me with the question, “so what is the next step?”  I am a community development professional, so I knew the answer in my own life, but realized that others might not.  The workbook picks up where the book leaves off – and helps small groups come up with their own answers to that question.  The workbook is challenging, well-produced to engage the youngest generation who might be reading it.  And for those who are leading the groups, it has lots of great advice for how to effectively lead small groups.  This can make the whole concept of leading a group a bit easier for some to swallow.  The workbook has sections for individual study, pre-study and post-study questions, group discussion questions and challenging personal application questions.

I think you could do the workbook without the video series, but not having seen the videos and knowing the high quality of video production from World Vision in the past, I’m sure the videos would add an extra element of impact to this study.  So, I would definitely recommend getting the videos, especially if your church will be doing the study in one large group.  Also, World Vision makes this easier by assembling pre-packaged sets of books, DVDs and workbooks at reasonable rates (when compared to other available products).  Unfortunately, the only place you can find these products is on the World Vision website.  I had a fairly difficult time ordering just one workbook, so would recommend you call to place a non-standard order, rather than rely upon the website ordering process.  Also, the 6-session study is available for free download at the link below.

http://www.theholeinourgospel.com/study-guide/

I would greatly recommend finding some friends, reading the book and going through the workbook together.  If you can’t afford the DVDs, don’t sweat it, but they would add additional zing to the impact.  Then ask God what He would have you do.  I’ll be posting new blogs in the coming weeks and months on some more technical aspects of community service to help groups who are beginning to serve their community.  Keep an eye out for those and for my own 12-chapter Bible study that I am looking to get published.  It will be a great companion to both of these resources as it goes more in-depth about simple, but effective practices for those doing community service without prior professional training (which is most of you!).

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