So as I continue to struggle to find the path of authentic Christianity in today’s culture, my mind often bounces from point to point within postmodernity. Why are Evangelicals largely in favor of “big military” and even military preemption, but ardently against abortion? Why are evangelicals largely against wealth redistribution? If the evangelical church lives in the grace of the new covenant, why are they largely in favor of carte blanche support of Israel? What percentage of mega church budgets are allocated towards missions relative to facility maintenance and upkeep? Why is there an Evangelical outcry against homosexuality, but hardly anything said on the divorce rates within their own community or children born out of wedlock? How has the Republican political party actually served the Evangelical community relative to the advancement of Christ’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension? Where is the compassion of Christ within Evangelical politics? Read the rest of this entry »
Category Archives: Missional Church
Have you ever encountered a statement that seems to perfectly encapsulate both your thinking and your fears? Late last week, a friend of mine posted a little-known quote by Martin Luther King Jr. on his Facebook wall. And since that time, not a day has passed by in which I have not considered the ramifications of King’s statement, particularly as it pertains to my own life and the life of my brothers and sisters in the church universal. Read the rest of this entry »
“In the late 1940s, the United States government commissioned William Francis Gibbs to work with United States Lines to construct an eighty million dollar troop carrier for the navy. The purpose was to design a ship that could speedily carry fifteen thousand troops during times of war. By 1952, construction on the SS United States was complete. The ship could travel at forty-four knots (about fifty-one miles per hours), and she could steam ten thousand miles without stopping for fuel or supplies. She could outrun any other ship and travel nonstop anywhere in the world in less than ten days. The SS United States was the fastest and most reliable troop carrier in the world.
The only catch is, she never carried troops. At least not in any official capacity. The ship was put on standby once during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but otherwise she was never used in all her capacity by the U.S. Navy.
Instead the SS United States became a luxury liner for presidents, heads of state and a variety of other celebrities who traveled on her during her seventeen years of service. As a luxury liner, she couldn’t carry fifteen thousand people. Instead she could house just under two thousand passengers. Those passengers could enjoy the luxuries of 695 staterooms, 4 dining salons, 3 bars, 2 theaters, 5 acres of open deck with a heated pool, 19 elevators, and the comfort of the world’s first fully air-conditioned passenger ship. Instead of a vessel used for battle during wartime, the SS United States became a means of indulgence for wealthy patrons who desired to coast peacefully across the Atlantic.
Things look radically different on a luxury liner than they do on a troop carrier. The faces of soldiers preparing for battle and those of patrons enjoying their bonbons are radically different. The conservation of resources on a troop carrier contrasts sharply with the opulence that characterizes the luxury liner. And the pace at which the troop carrier moves is by necessity much faster than that of the luxury liner. After all, the troop carrier has an urgent task to accomplish; the luxury liner, on the other hand, is free to casually enjoy the trip.
When I think about the history of the SS United States, I wonder if she has something to teach us about the history of the church. The church, like the SS United States, has been designed for battle. The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission. Yet we seem to have turned the church as a troop carrier into the church as a luxury liner. We seem to have organized ourselves, not to engage in battle for the souls of people around the world, but to indulge ourselves in the peaceful comforts of the world.”
The excerpt above was taken from David Platt’s New York Times Best-Selling Radical, and can be found on pages 169-171.
To a church that is increasingly defining its core identity in terms of mission and outreach, Robert Lupton’s new book, Toxic Charity, is going to read like a literary sucker-punch to side of the head. As a veteran urban minister with 40-plus years of experience, Lupton has been given a front row seat to much of America’s charitable giving; and he argues that this giving is largely wasted as it “actually harms the people it is targeted to help.”
Why? According to Lupton, the “compassion industry” is too often given the benefit of the doubt without ever being scrutinized in the way that we test other industries. In other words, Christian charities are “almost universally accepted as virtuous and constructive” without anyone every stopping to ask whether the end product produces measurable change in the lives of those that the charities seek to help.
Of particular interest to Lupton are the short-term missions projects that come at a cost of two-and-a-half to five billion dollars annually. For many Christians in the West, short-term missions are used as a way of providing a “life changing experience” for those that are involved, offering a strong sense of having “done the right thing.” But the question is: have we done the right thing? Is the goal of relief-based missions the softening of the participant’s heart or the increased quality of life provided to the recipient of the aid? Lupton clearly fears that we lean towards the former; and as such, we are a creating a toxic missions culture that is not actually about the hurting and the lost. He fears that our efforts are, in reality, “diminishing the dignity of the poor, while increasing their dependency” upon both the church and external foreign aide.
But Lupton’s assessment is not entirely negative. In the closing chapters of his book, he lays out a proposal for a new sort of “Oath of Compassionate Service” that would be modeled upon the Hippocratic Oath. This new oath would be governed by six unyielding principles:
(1) Charities are to never serve the poor by doing anything that the poor can already do for themselves.
(2) Any unidirectional giving is to be done only in the case of extreme emergencies, when the abilities of local, indigenous communities are severely hampered.
(3) Charities are only to invest money by lending it to the poor for the purposes of developing self-sustaining employment.
(4) We are to subordinate our personal desires and needs to the needs of those that we are serving.
(5) Local leadership must be actively developed and engaged, so that they can speak to the needs of their community as insiders.
(6) Finally, any aide given must do absolutely no harm to the community itself.
On the one hand, I found this book to be enormously refreshing and it serves as a very necessary correction for some deviant thinking in the contemporary church. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that I want to evaluate ministry in terms of efficacy or success. The church is not a corporation; and we do not offer an “end product.” Moreover, I’m somewhat concerned that a book of this nature could be used to justify an inbred-mentality within churches that are looking for reasons to believe that they do not need to engage in missional activity. What do you think?