I was once asked the question with no malice — does the church think too highly of itself? As though God’s work would stop in the absence of a stereotypical local church congregation seeking to grow its resource and attendance base, etc., because clearly there were examples where God’s concern for the poor, mentally ill, immigrant, and generally unkempt had not been a priority for many local churches. There seemed to be ample room for parachurches and non profits to fill the gap. Those organizations that direct all their resources to those specific needs; raise funds to target a particular segment, and run lean compared to most church budgets. Which is a more faithful analog of the church as God intended? And why would the latter be secondary to the former?
If you look at the roster of most church staff — a pastor, a worship leader, a children’s ministry person, a youth pastor, an administrator maybe and whomever else — do they serve a relatively homogenous, comfortable, consumer-oriented clientele? Or do they genuinely expand the kingdom? Do they uncover matters that cut to the heart like a financial counselor or a social worker or food pantry worker? Can they help in matters that Jesus addressed such as blindness, lame, and loose women? Or are they there just to make the church appealing to the next surburbanite family? I don’t mean to ask these questions with an agenda in mind, I’m just asking to point the question, does the church think too highly of itself?
This sentiment seems to grow in prevalence within circles of nonprofits and care providers that scoff at the church’s ability to meet tangible needs. Without the ability to meet those needs in a manner that exhibits awareness, sensitivity, and courage, the church has been relegated to the frou frou corner.
Why is it that the church seems far from the work of reconciliation? What is the disconnect here? Is it that we think too highly of ourselves? Or is there a division of labor that is truly constructive between church and nonprofit? If, as I’ve argued before that cultural intelligence is a near requirement for church planters, should we also expect them to know the basics of justice and compassion ministries? What do you think? What’s it like for your church?