After a compelling conversation laden with much back and forth disagreement, I have come to a place of internal reflection as I ponder the following question: what responsibility does the Apostolic church have towards humanitarian issues? Humanitarian, by definition, is to be concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare. Synonyms used alongside the word include, but are not limited to: compassionate, humane, unselfish, altruistic, generous, magnanimous, benevolent, merciful, kind, sympathetic, and charitable.
Can the church reconcile an apathy towards human suffering while advocating an awareness of spiritual death? Are the doors of the church strictly opened to the spiritually hungry? Do we only respond to those vetted to have been found “desiring” eternal answers? Was the good Samaritan propelled by a salvific responsibility or a humanitarian one? Call it what you want, but the attempt to disconnect from human suffering and focus solely on spiritual plight seems counterproductive to the nature of God.
Did every individual that Jesus healed become a follower? We do not know! However, was it strictly the idea of their spiritually deceased condition that stopped Jesus in His tracks? No, it was not. Multiple times the Bible states that Jesus “had compassion.” To be compassionate is to by sympathetic, having pity and concern for the suffering or misfortunes of others. Could I ask a simple rhetorical question? Are we not seeing many healings and miracles simply because we have ceased to be a “compassionate church?”
Speaking from direct experience, I look back at the several years involved with young “inner city” children that would be labeled from the “projects, hood, or ghetto.” While we saw tremendous growth numerically in a short time of two years, the overall spiritual impact was relatively small and a few young men and women remained connected to the church and are doing tremendous things today. However, what was it that broke down the walls in order that spiritual light first shine into hardened, untrusting, dark hearts of neglected children? Compassion.
When many of those children learned (getting past all their bias, prejudice, and environmental disposition toward myself and my racial status), that I simply cared for them, wanted the best for them, and desired to help them; the doors began to slide open in their lives. Do you know what it is to first reach toward a small 7-year-old young boy who immediately goes into defensive posture and shrinks away from your hands because his only knowledge of touch is abuse? Now, do you know what it is, several months or year later to be wrapped in a trusting hug by those same children, little eyes that minutes before were vacant of joy and hope now lit with light at the few minutes you will be on that sidewalk, connecting with the neglected hopes and dreams still deep within them???
Would I have loved each of them to respond to the message of the Gospel? Do I wish they were presently, all of them, living victorious for God? Yes, but many are not! Nevertheless, does compassion expire? Is there a little time-clock, a narrow-window, where compassion hardens into justice? Do you know how many stories I know of bus kids who came to church for YEARS, never responding to truth, but suddenly, one day, they responded?
What is it, to sit in our glass houses, sipping out expensive latte’s and preparing our next sermons, and ignore the human suffering around us? Oh, just interpret all scripture through a “spiritual lens” so that we can ignore “fleshly” responsibility. Is it simply selfish to shrug off the suffering of our cities and throw our hands up in the air and declare, “what can I possibility do?” Can we continue to fall back on the “I won’t feel condemned because I don’t help the homeless,” statements?
Am I even writing about the homeless? No! I am writing about compassion. What it is to be moved by human suffering, recognizing the dreadful mark of sin on humanity that is robbing them of hope, joy, and freedom. Do I stand at a prison cell of the tortured masses and first require that only those interested in salvation will be let free if I open the prison gates? To think in the affirmative is simply absurd!
What is there that is wrong with the church getting involved in the arena of simply “elevating” their societies? What is wrong with the church engaging their communities, helping neglected children to read and write, teach them to become productive citizens, and enable them to change their mindsets? Sure, salvation is crucial and should never be left out…but how can we sit idly by and pray for the very cities we have NO compassion for? How can we expect revival out of that which we do not truly love?
What has it come down to when we OPPOSE the cities we claim to have been sent to SAVE? What is the deal with the church presenting the constant barrage of “us against them?” We should be FOR THEM. We should HELP THEM. How can any church not feel that it is their responsibility to be the LIGHT in their darkened city? Please, don’t declare yourself light if your light only shines when preaching the Gospel, declaring the need for salvation, all while denying the simple compassion that should be most readily revealed in our lives.
I pose a simple strategy for revival. Get compassionate and take responsibility for your city! Reach your hands into the unclean world of neglect. Breath hope and life into people in your city that have existed for YEARS being taught they are worthless. Do you not realize that we make time for those things we deem “worthy” of our time? Get involved by meeting the needs in your community. Your church should be recognized as a church that is interested in the SUCCESS of the city, not one that is in constant opposition to the city! What’s wrong with juvenile centers where young men can be given a safe place to play, a controlled environment to learn, and perhaps mix and mingle with those whose testimonies have emerged from the same circumstances?
I close with the story of one young man I have never forgotten in all my years since youth pastoring. His name was Quentarious, but Q for short. When we first picked him up he was one of the worst of the children we picked up. He was argumentative, aggressive, rude, and refused to cooperate many times. In fact, many weeks he was told he would not be allowed to come back to some events for a couple of weeks due to his actions and attitude. He was hard, raw, and untrusting.
If ever I had reached my limit with a young man…this was surely it. However, something in my spirit continued to compel me to work with him. He was the way he was for a reason! Sure he was full of rebellion and anger, and had been very disruptive. However, we continued to pick him up, several times by himself, taking him to lunch and spending time with him. I will never forget the day that he sat in front of me, sitting isolated upstairs in the youth center after the majority of kids went down to play basketball.
He smiled. Yes…I had never seen him smile, but he did. Then, he started crying. Suddenly, he began to pour out his heart in regards to his life. You see, nobody wanted him. He was caught up in extremely abusive environments. And, to make matters worse, he had just found out that his mother did not want him and she had convinced his father, who lived a state away (who didn’t want him either), to take him. He was worried…terrified…sad…reaching out for the first time in his life. He was vulnerable…he was lost…and I could not do anything to change the circumstances in his life.
What happened to him? He moved, and I don’t know. I could never get a number for his father. Is he probably on the streets, raw and acting out on his violence; my instinct says, “probably.” However, though I never got him to response to salvation…though he heard it many Friday evenings, and even Sunday’s when he came, I have no regrets. Was it a “waste of time” because I didn’t pray him through? No…it wasn’t. Those tears, the trust, the vulnerability, and the moment where the neglected child emerged from him and reached out to me were moments that may never happen again, and he may never forget. I think, without doubt, that Jesus would have done the same had He had the opportunity.
Where then does that leave us? I hope it leaves us in a place to consider, reflect, and rethink some of our positions on compassion. I am convinced our cities will never see the full effect of our Gospel until we fall in love with it’s people. God help us…