Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of physically blessing our communities. In particular, I am keen to start businesses in our neighbourhood that serve the local community. I want to find means of serving and blessing people locally so that they see that the gospel is good and when they encounter the gospel, having already seen it in action, will hear why it is good too. I want a holistic approach to our evangelism that doesn’t just see people as robots who will hear a logical message and accept it. They need to see that the gospel is good, see the effects of what the gospel drives us to do, so that they might recognise the message as good too.
All that is well and good. But, in the end, there are two counterpoints. First, what if you don’t have the skills to setup businesses or bless your local community, what then? Second, won’t ploughing your time into physically blessing your community take up so much time that you never end up actually sharing the gospel and addressing their deeper spiritual needs?
Let me address the second of those first because, let’s face it, that is a real danger. I could setup some fantastic business(es) that employ local people and meet some needs in the community too. People could think those businesses are wonderful and they could know all about the Christian ethos behind them. But if we never actually get round to telling anybody the gospel because are heads are full of business plans and financial reports, have we actually done what we were supposed to do? Haven’t we missed the point?
The short answer would be, yes. If we spend all our time running our businesses to the detriment of actual gospel ministry, then yes, they have failed in what they were supposed to achieve. And it is easy to see how such things could take over. Things don’t just run themselves and so, to run them well, we end up pouring all of our time into them. It is exactly the same phenomenon in mercy ministry. What starts off as a great way to reach the poor with the gospel soon begins to take over so that we don’t end up telling anybody the gospel. I don’t think that means we don’t do acts of mercy and nor does it mean running businesses to bless the community is a bad thing. It just means we need to be careful that these things don’t overtake our primary purpose and we run them better, with a clear sense of why we are doing them in the first place.
But it also is important to remember that the Great Commission was given to the church. It is a corporate activity. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if your pastor is trying to run several businesses on the side of the everyday work of ministry something is going to give. There is a reason why the Apostles appointed deacons to serve the widows – they couldn’t adequately devote time to the ministry of Word and prayer whilst undertaking all the mercy ministry themselves. So, they appointed others to do the mercy ministry whilst they focused on teaching the Bible and praying. In the same way, if everybody is about running businesses, nobody will be about the work of teaching the Bible, prayer and pastoral care. But the church is a body, with each serving in different functions, so that the whole might be blessed. Nobody is called to do everything. So, when we say we want people to bless our local community this way, we don’t mean we expect everyone to set up new businesses. But that some in our church might be called to that, and provide a means of blessing the community that the church could get behind, seems like a good goal to me. Some will set them up, others will work in them, others still will hang out at them and use them as a place to share the gospel. But all will be serving the mission of the church to bless the community both physically and spiritually.
Nobody should want anything to take over to the detriment of important things Jesus has called us to do. But it doesn’t hurt to take a holistic approach to the things Jesus has called us to do. Whether we are called to work for somebody else, or for the church, or to setup our own businesses, we are to glorify God in these things, seeking to bless others for Christ’s sake. A vision for our community means that we should want to bless them too. If we can do that materially and spiritually, taking a holistic approach to how people will engage with the gospel, that can only be a good thing.
The first question I raised earlier is the harder one. What if you don’t have the skills to setup businesses to bless your community? Well, we have a sovereign God who is in control of that. If he wants you to do it, he’ll bless you with the skills and aptitudes to make it happen. If he hasn’t gifted you with those things in your church, then maybe that isn’t how he specifically wants you to bless your community at the minute. So, go and find the ways you can bless them instead.
Fact is, I’m not suggesting this stuff as some prescriptive to-do list. I am not saying all believers must do this. I am simply suggesting it is one thing, if we are able, we might want to think about. We are not living in days where the gospel gets a straight hearing very easily any more. So, we have to think creatively about how we might open up space for the gospel to be heard helpfully. After all, what good is the gospel we proclaim for people if we can’t even get to a point where they can hear it? We can preach it as loudly as we like within our four walls, but if nobody is there to hear it, how have we actually blessed them? One answer might be to go and proclaim it outside – and I’m not against that at all – but it bears asking, if we holler it loudly in the street, people might catch bits of what we’re saying, but if they’re not really listening, have we really blessed them at all? And, it bears asking, have they really rejected what they haven’t really heard? We want to try to be as effective as we possibly can be so that we can meaningfully bless our communities with the gospel that we rightly insist they need most.
So, you may not be in position to bless your community in some of these ways. That is ultimately in the Lord’s hands, isn’t it? If you can’t bless them by setting up business or meeting physical needs that they might have, then find the ways you can bless them. The Bible isn’t silent about good works. It neither calls us to merely share the gospel and sack off doing good altogether nor does it call us to simply do nice things for people and hope that the gospel that we never tell them somehow gets through. A fair reading of scripture suggests that both are within our Christian purview. Given the missionary situation we effectively find ourselves in, we need to grapple with that question both of how we will make the gospel heard and how we will show it be good. You might answer these questions differently to me, you may find your context demands different things and that’s all okay. But think about them we must. Not only is it Biblical to think in such terms, effectiveness demands it and our future depends on it.