Just like our culture at large, churches have trends. I've been around long enough to have witnessed some sweeping trends in my own Christian culture.
Among them are:
1. The switch from traditional hymns to praise music (from organ and piano to a praise band)
2. The change from church buildings to multi purpose centers complete with a gym floor and folding chairs rather than pews and carpet
3. The trend away from "Sunday clothes" and toward casual wear - even jeans and flip flops - for services
4. The shying away from Sunday school in exchange for cell groups or community groups
5. The acceptance of coffee cups, bagels and doughnuts during a service (a personal favorite of mine - ha ha).
I'm not stating that these trends are bad, non-Biblical or that they are a better, more desirable environment in which to learn how to live out our faith. We Believers bring to our churches our own life experiences that shape the way we learn and worship best.
There is a trend that I see in the church today that has me both excited AND a bit worried: the focus of so many churches today is turning OUTWARD. Believers are seeing beyond their own back yards and beginning to notice and address the needs of the poor around the world. I know this was always done, to some extent, through missions work but it seems today that most churches are expending extra effort, money and time reaching the poor and working to meet their felt needs (food, clothing, shelter, clean water, medical care).
Sometimes we do this through short-term mission trips (which can be both a blessing and a curse to those we serve - more on THAT in a later post), through supporting another church in a foreign land, through adopting children, through medical missions . . . the opportunities seem endless and the number of Believers jumping on board ever increasing.
I am PROUD to call myself a Christ follower when I see my brothers and sisters extending their hands in this way. But I often question, in my heart of hearts, if we are "finishing the job" or not.
I worry that we have been duped by The Enemy into believing that meeting felt needs IS the gospel. Feeding people does NOT introduce them to Christ. It feeds them.
Adopting children does NOT create disciples, it simply makes them non-orphans.
Going to Outer Mongolia to dig wells does not draw humans into a walk with their Creator - unless we give them the gospel along WITH the need meeting.
When we meet needs without sharing the gospel, we are selfish. We are making ourselves feel good by helping those in need. We can lay down to sleep with a smile feeling happy and maybe a little smug that a family has a full belly because of US but we have gypped those we intended to help. We have robbed ourselves of the joy of TELLING others of the love of Christ while SHOWING them at the same time.
Satan would love for us to feel we have done all that is required of us when we meet felt needs and yet to keep silent about forgiveness of SIN, salvation through CHRIST, a new life in HIM and eternity in either HEAVEN or HELL.
I worry that good deeds have become the "new" and "improved" gospel and not a segue to sharing the REAL, HARD CORE, NO NONSENSE, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH CHRIST, truth that saves.
Yes, I am of reformed theology and I firmly believe that those who Christ has pre-ordained and called WILL come to him but, don't we, as Christ followers, want to be in on that? Don't we long to SEE people submit their lives to the one who made them for relationship with Him? Don't we hope to take their hands and lead them in that beautiful prayer that someone probably prayed with us in years gone by? You are witness to a miracle when that happens. It is beauty beyond description.
Many do want that. Many individuals who serve, go on mission, adopt children and reach out to the poor do so with the ultimate goal of sharing the gospel. The only gospel. The "good news" that rich or poor, fatherless or family-rich, born in the good old USA or somewhere far and remote, Jesus longs for them to come to Him.
Let us not confuse good works with the good news.
And let us press on toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. (Phil. 3:14)