A follow-up to “We care about you. Sort of.”

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?

  1. Christina Turtle said:

    Well said babe, I know that your intent was never to offend people, but some times the truth is hard to hear. I know that if the people reading this truly understood your heart, their responces would be different.

    Personally, I think its really hard to understand what it truly means to follow Jesus, especially living in a culture like ours where we have SO much. If Jesus asked me right now, to sell all I have and follow him….could I do it? Honestly I dont know… it would be really hard. This is why I appreciate being reminded that this life is not my own, I am here to serve the lost and broken and to share the great love of Jesus.
    I am still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like, but I know that its not in getting more “things”. It may sound cliche, but my mom always used to say “the more that you own, the more that own’s you” and I think thats somthing to think about.
    As the hands and feet of Jesus we need to get out into a hurting world and starting loving the CRAP out of our communities. Does this make sense?

    Anyway thanks for raising improtant questions/concerns that should even if it hurts to hear.

    Love you!

  2. erika said:

    no need for explanation. it isnt just one said toront area church, it’s many churches. very few of them actally follow the gospel and live it out. i think its wonderful that so many churches send their money and aide to struggling countries. i think it’s a shame that these churches cannot seem to deal with the impoverished right here at home. helping the poor means holding these dinners and making gift baskets at xmas. but i dont see anyone engaging the poor or practicing the gospel and fellowshiping with anyone.its easy to love your family and those who are like you. harder to love those in real need. im not sure why it’s so difficult.

  3. Orlagh Turtle said:

    Well said Jonathan…thanks for clarifying your points.God is doing a wonderful thing with your life, drawing you closer to Him and giving you His Heart for mankind, and I Praise Him for that.You are exactly right in calling the family of Believers to account to live a life of broken service to Him, more simply and more humbly. Jesus left the “Riches” of Heaven to become “poor” for us,do we Love Him enough to allow Him to truly transform our lives?
    “O God my Father, who art often closest to me when I am farthest from YOU, and who art nearer at hand even when I feel that You have forsaken me, mercifully grant that the DEFEAT of my self-will may be the triumph of Thine eternal purpose.May I grow more sure of Thy reality and Power. May I attain a clearer mind as to the meaning of my life on earth; May I strengthen my hold on the eternal; May I look more and more to things unseen, May my desires grow less unruly and my imaginations more pure…AMEN”
    John Baillie in ” A Diary of Private Prayer

  4. I really like what Mother Teresa said:
    “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

    Although, doing things such as community dinners (like you said), or giving money to build useful buildings in other countries, other such things are a good thing, I think that the relationships we build with our community are much more important.

    People can walk in and out of some churches, and get a great message, maybe even have some great worship, and coffee afterwards. But there is so much more to the Church than that. Nice reflections.

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