Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ministry without a message

I've posted before about how Christians end up doing thankless services for the poor, sick, and dying. My dad told me once about the sandwich-wrapped-in-a-tract philosophy of evangelism. He never said it, but in so many words it goes something like "Can't talk. Eating.", or "Interesting religion. Are you going to finish that?"

There is a brashness continuum in talking to people about religion, from "You're my best friend, so let me tell you something that means the world to me," to "You're my friend, so hold still while I talk into your ear," to "You're a perfect stranger, but you may have already won eternal life in heaven with God." Sandwich-in-a-tract has a pretty low Brashness Factor, but as a church we can go further. Why not just give the dude his sandwich and leave it at that? We could have ministries without a message, without any evangelism at all.

Now, I think this is probably nothing new. Don't Christian churches already host public programs (like the financial health seminar Sarah and I did this winter (laced, however, with Biblical teaching on money and wealth)) and do good deeds in the community (like rake old ladies' yards, and stock the soup kitchen) without any religious slant or proselytizing involved? I'm sure.

But I think it's useful to give it a name. It's useful to think that ministering to the world involves nothing more than easing lives that are too hard, and loving people who are unlovable. Our ministries should be freely given, without the implied quid pro quo where we trade in our investment of friendship or labor or sandwich fixings for X minutes of Jesus pitch. They should be graceful, without expectation of heavenly returns. I suppose this flies in the face of the shrewd manager parable, at least on first appearances, but then it is also more in line with the sheep and goats parable. A major point of the latter, after all, is that it was a surprise for the sheep that they had been tending to their shepherd all along.

Maybe we could do relationship seminars without religion (even for gasp! gay people). Maybe we could offer public services anonymously, or at least a-churchymously. We could delight in doing kindness without public acclaim. Individuals do this already, as my old post says, but why not churches?

Doesn't the world need more love-shuriken-wielding Christian kindness ninjas doing good like smoke, then vanishing into the shadow?

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