I will say this, however. If you find a church that talks a lot about
justice and helping the poor AND has a pastor that live amongst the poor, you
should let me know. That would really excite me. What I tend to see however, are
pastors who live comfortable to extravagant lives while preaching about justice.
That pretty much does nothing for me, but maybe that's just me.
-Myself, from a post
entitled "Outsourcing Ethics"
I'm not in the habit of quoting myself. Golum from Lord of the Rings? To Stacy's chagrin, I quote him often (What's taters, Precious?). Han Solo? Also highly quoted. Homer Simpson? Check. Various theologians? Double check.
And yet, I need to quote myself this fine day in order to clarify a statement that I dropped at the end of a previous post, but that I had intended to turn into an entire post before I got a little trigger-happy. So, I come back to the thought now having let it sit in space for a little while.
Caring for the poor has become somewhat of a catchphrase for churches lately. People in my age demographic aren't all that good about going to church, but we tend to get behind social causes. The good news for churches is that God has a heart for justice and mercy and social restoration, which provides an opportunity to pull my generation back into the pews. There have been numerous books written recently about God's heart for the poor and underserved, and justice has become a major contributing stream to the emerging church movement.
On the one had, this is fantastic. It brings a very important message into churches and has started some great conversations. And yet, I also fear that the conversation is ringing somewhat hollow and is in danger of becoming a catchphrase that lots of pastors talk about, but very few live.
As a person who lives in the "quasi-hood" (a neighborhood that is mostly under the poverty line, but that does not suffer from a severe pathology of violence) and works in the hard-core hood but goes to church in the 'burbs, I've had a lot of opportunities to ponder this. What frustrates me more that anything is that so many churches are talking about helping the poor, but a lot of the leaders in these churches have limited interactions with the poor.
If we really want to see a revolutionary change in the church where we are breaking down social walls and living lives of justice instead of engaging in justice as an extracurricular activities, then pastors need to turn it up a couple of notches. They need to model for their congregations what it looks like to live with the poor. To suffer with them in their brokenness, to rejoice with them in their restoration and to be an active participant in their struggle to be heard in society.
If a church is at point A in this process and they want to get to point B, how much more helpful would it be if the pastor went to point B? If the pastor didn't hang out at point A and talk about how much God wants us to be at point B, but doesn't go there personally then how many congregants are actually going to go to point B? Not too many, from what I'm seeing.
Sure, there is risk involved. Getting outside your comfort zone can be, well, uncomfortable. It was a little annoying last night when I couldn't sleep because the police helicopter was circling the neighborhood. It was a lot annoying last week when my friends closed on a house in the neighborhood I work in, only to have their new home broken into within 24 hours of the previous owners moving out. There are times when it's great, but there are times when it really sucks.
So pastors, live risky. Live with boldness. Your job goes beyond preaching. It involves being a shepherd and a model and living a prophetic life. If you are going to talk about restoration and justice, then you have to live it. If you don't, then how can you really expect your congregants to?