Sometimes people are distracted from the work of evangelizing and discipling by “social action” kinds of ministries.
Now I don’t like terms such as “social action” because I am not sure really what they mean. But if it means, actively and sacrificially pursuing the good of people in specific and tangible ways, then, we have found in practice the opposite. In fact, when I look back on the past several years, I only have more passion for the gospel and for discipleship as a result of our engagement in some of these different areas. Definitely not less. Plus, we have seen God building a local church.
To give an example.
It’s Sunday night now and I am looking back on such a wonderful week of church life. I am amazed by the godly people God’s brought together and the deep and transforming and sometimes surprising friendships we have developed.
Just last Thursday night I sat down for a deacon training meeting with two Afrikaans South Africans, a Coloured South African, an American and three Congolese men. Then on Saturday, a black South African and I listened to the testimonies of individuals from the Congo and sometime soon I will go and listen to another person from Zimbabwe in preparation for their baptism. On Sunday morning, I met with an Indian South African, a black South African, and another Congolese man who all form part of our elders in development class. We were missing two English South Africans and a Zimbabwean who normally join us. I am becoming a better pastor as a result of my relationships with these men. In the meantime, one of our Malawian brothers was speaking at a pastors conference. Our church is sending him and his wife back to Malawi to plant a church. They are just waiting for the finalization of the adoption of a baby girl from our baby home. Then on Sunday afternoon, we gathered together as a church family, and I was able to preach from 1 Peter 1:17-21 for about an hour, to Phd’s and parking guards, housewives and engineers, people living in tin shacks, flats, homes and even someone who is currently homeless. I came away deeply encouraged by some of the different spiritual conversations I had. I think of one conversation in particular with one of my dear friends (a real brother!) who was thanking God for the way he’s grown since he was baptized several years ago.
While all that in and of itself may not be as exciting to everyone as it is to me, what should be exciting to everyone who is a believer is the fact that all of these individuals are devoted to Christ, serious about the gospel, and servants of the church. I am very proud of the men who are being trained as deacons and elders. It was an absolute joy to hear the Christ-exalting testimonies of those who are going to be baptized. It is difficult for me to express just much how I love the couple we are sending to Malawi. I am so excited about the way in which God is going to use him. I would happily sit under his ministry of the Word.
What is interesting to me is that humanly speaking none of that would have taken place if God hadn’t motivated us several years ago to get involved in trying to help strangers carry their burdens. We sometimes like to jokingly say, it all started with a Food Pack.
It is true that some do get distracted by “social action” kind of ministries, but I wonder honestly, if that is because they are focusing more on the project side of social action than they are on the relationship. If someone hears social action and thinks project first and foremost, that is the problem. They need to think relationship.
What’s more, if someone is the kind of person who is more interested in getting projects done than building relationships, they aren’t going to be effective church planters anyway. It is likely that kind of person will get distracted no matter what he goes to do. I mean, if you could somehow get them to stop being involved in social action kind of ministries and start planting churches, those churches most likely aren’t going to be very effective in the long run.
Not in Africa, especially. But maybe not anywhere.
It’s not so much about the exact name of the mission, I don’t think. The problem starts way before that. It is more about the missionary. If someone can’t dig a well and plant a church, he probably can’t plant a church. It’s that simple. (Actually if someone digs a well and doesn’t develop a discipleship kind of relationship as he does so, then I am guessing his digging of the well isn’t going to be all that helpful either.)