I wrote a post a few weeks back about a church in the Toronto area that claimed to love and care for the needy in their community by putting on a Christmas dinner called ‘The Servants Banquet’ (since then the information about the banquet seems to be missing from the site). Well actually the post was about more than this one event but the discussion of the dinner is what generated a lot of discussion. There were a number of different comments ranging from “(high five) nicely said John,” to “Shame on you.”
At this point I guess I should clarify a few things:
1) “The Servants Banquet” is a good work. Like I said in my original post “who would deny that giving a meal to a family in need is a good thing?” Feeding the hungry is great and is a Biblical mandate!
2) By reflecting critically on the nature of the banquet as an outreach program of the church I was in no way trying to make any remarks about the individuals involved in the banquet. I personally know the founders of the dinner and I know many of the folks who are involved with it every year (among these folks are close friends of mine and even family members!). I was not trying to call into question these folks motives or hearts when it comes to loving the poor and oppressed in their community. I hope I am clear: I love these folk and they are doing a good work!
3) My critique of the banquet revolved mainly around two issues: i) the programming of the banquet by the church (i.e. a service that we provide for you), and ii) the overshadowing of the banquet by church spending habits. It’s interesting to note that in all of the critical feedback I received (and believe me there was lots including both public and private conversations!) nobody really addressed these two concerns. A few people tried to justify the church spending by giving examples of more positive spending (raising money to purchase buildings for kids in Russia) but for the most part no one addressed the issue of church spending and the question of how this spending is compatible with the message of loving the poor in their community.
Again, here is the question I would ask:
When a church says that they care about the needy in their community and then spends millions of dollars on building upgrades (i.e. million dollar expansions, rock concert lighting rigs, plasma screen TVs that scroll announcements in the lobby etc) what does this communicate? Surely this sort of spending is communicating something. My question is what does it communicate and how does this fit with the message that the church also desires to “serve the less fortunate in our community with the love of Jesus.” I suppose another way of putting this question is how precisely does spending millions of dollars on yourself demonstrate your love for the “less fortunate” in your community?
4) The sort of critiquing I was engaged in was not the sort of critiquing that an ‘outsider’ does with their own agenda in mind to tear down the one they are critiquing. First and foremost, I point the proverbial finger at myself before anyone else. The sorts of questions I ask of the church (questions of what their spending habits communicate to the poor) are questions that I ask of myself. Secondly, I’m not an ‘outsider’ here. I am a fellow believer and so I consider these folks my brothers and sisters in the Lord. Therefore, the nature of this criticism was not to tear down but rather, to build up. If we are going to be honest with ourselves then we need to come to terms with the fact that it is not easy to follow Jesus in a culture like ours and there are many temptations to prostrate ourselves before idols. I would submit then that if we are trying to be a people that are faithful to the Lord Jesus then we need to be a people that are continually asking ourselves difficult questions about our praxis and belief in an effort to remain faithful to Jesus.
Hopefully this helps to clear up a bit of the confusion with the original post. So…anyone want to take a stab at the question?