When Christian missionaries went into Indonesia they build compounds and invited the natives to come in out of the world, be saved and be separate. When muslims entered they went into the communities, did business with the natives, lived among them, took interest in what they were interested in. Today Indonesia is more than 85% Muslim. Similar stories can be told around the world. On every continent it seems that Christian missionaries were content to be Light, shining a beacon of salvation to those around, without being Salt, mixing with the populace and seasoning it from within.
The same is true in America. I heard an interesting analogy last week. There is a stream running outside our churches. The stream, being the world, is dirty. It’s polluted, corrupt, corroded, filled with nasty bits and the fish are dying. What has the church done. We’ve tried to construct our own stream out behind the church, separate from the world’s stream. We’ve taken rocks and plants and fish from the original stream and cleaned them up and transplanted them into our new stream. But no matter how well we try to clean things up, they still have a little of the world’s contagion and so while our “church stream” might not be as nasty as the worlds, it’s still not perfect. Some churches have tried to add chlorine and other purifying agents into the water of the church stream, but that just results in killing off plants and fish. It sure looks pretty, but it has no life.
What am I talking about? Going outside our walls.
We have Christian cook books, Christian music, Christian comedians, Christian auto shops, Christian films, Christian diet programs, etc., etc. The word “Christian” has become an adjective. We have taken things out of the world, cleaned them up and tried to create a “Christian” version. What happened to being Salt as well as Light. During his missionary journeys Paul went to the market places. There were times he set up shop and sold tents. He didn’t make “Christian” tents. He was a Christian who made tents. And he used those connections to share the Good News with dying fish.
Even in our own churches we duplicate the charitable efforts of other organizations around us. Yes, the church ought to care about hunger, poverty, homelessness etc. But we create our own in-house programs when usually there is an organization in the community already attempting to address that problem. We also tell our people (church members), be it explicitly or implicitly, that if they’re not involved in the church’s version of that charitable effort then they’re not really serving God.
Let’s say your church has become burdened for the youth of your community and decide to start an after-school program. Another organization also runs an after school program. What happens? First, the other organization views your church not as a partner, but as competition. It becomes a contest to see who can get the most kids. Efforts are duplicated (twice the overhead) without netting twice the results. How might this be done differently? When your church identifies a need, first see if someone is already trying to meet that need. Then, come along side them. Offer to support their efforts. Encourage your people to volunteer with that organization. Underwrite some of their costs. In the course of working along side these people, relationships will be made and you will eventually earn the right to be heard. You will have been demonstrating the results of the gospel laying the foundation of understanding so that you may be heard when you are finally able to proclaim the gospel.
Salt & Light. Most churches I know, particularly those in the evangelical camp, have no trouble being Light. They say it loud and say it proud. They are less effective at being Salt.
Let’s get beyond our walls. Come out, come out, where ever you are! The God/Man, Jesus, entered the world, lived in the filthy river, preached the Good News and touched the untouchable. Go, thou, and do likewise.