Oh, did I type that outloud?
January 12, 2016 by: Crossway
This post is adapted from Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy by Mez McConnell and Mike McKinley.
When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough
Between my time church planting in Brazil and my work now in Edinburgh in one of Scotland’s most deprived housing schemes—a mixture of social housing and low-income homeowners—I have been on the receiving end of a lot of short-term missions teams. And while I appreciate the help, I have noticed over the years that a lot of well-meaning, Jesus-loving groups from the United Kingdom and United States will show up with their paintbrushes and hammers, but with no understanding of the gospel message they think they’ve come to proclaim.
Many young people speak as if the good news is all about them and their sense of self-worth. They may grasp elements such as the love of Jesus or the fact that he died on the cross, but it is rare to find an individual who can give a well-rounded and comprehensive declaration of the gospel message. It can feel like we have turned the greatest news in the history of the world into a therapeutic self-help system, wrapped in churchy-speak and popular psychobabble.The gospel is good news, the best news in fact. And it is essential that we both get the message correct and also keep it in the proper place. If we get the message wrong, it’s like taking corrupted medicine: it can’t heal you. If we put other things in the gospel’s priority of place, it’s like buying a diamond engagement ring but forgetting to buy a diamond: we’re left with a setting that beautifully displays . . . nothing.We must be willing to take the time to get the message right and to communicate it faithfully. Here are five reasons why:
1. Because Eternity Matters Most
The gospel addresses all of life, both this life and the one to come. Many young people who want to serve on a short-term basis with us in the the Scottish housing schemes are on fire for the poor and passionate about being “missional” and “breaking down barriers.” But sadly they often unwittingly put the emphasis in the wrong place: racial reconciliation, social justice, or renewing the culture.
The gospel message is not simply that Jesus loves you or that God would like to get you out of your current difficulties.The biggest need in the schemes is not social or economic change. The biggest problem in the housing schemes is that people are alienated from a holy God because the stench of their sin is an offense to him. And so the people of the schemes need a real Lord and Savior who died and rose for them so that he can take away all of their sins and replace their stony, idolatrous hearts with worshipful hearts of flesh. No other message even begins to help.To be clear, we are not opposed to helping people with their day-to-day physical problems. There may be situations where it would be positively wicked for a church not to help someone in physical need. But there must be a priority given to the gospel message; it has to come first. Poverty, violence, and injustice are real problems at a personal and societal level. But they are the symptoms of the spiritual disease we all carry around with us. Treating the symptoms is good and noble, but without the gospel cure, the patient will surely die. As we approach evangelism and outreach in our needy housing schemes, we must do it with this inside-out mentality.
2. Because People Are Saved in No Other Way
In Acts 4:12 we read, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If that is true, people must believe the true gospel in order to be saved and brought into a right relationship with God. There is salvation in no one else; there is no back-up plan. Those who think that turning up to a scheme and emptying a few trash cans and digging a few gardens is somehow going to transmit gospel truth by some form of spiritual osmosis are very wrong. Faith comes through hearing (Rom. 10:17), so we proclaim Jesus’s completed substitutionary work on behalf of sinners rather than offer a self-help program.Good works such as caring for the poor are a powerful sign to nonbelievers (1 Pet. 2:12), but in the book of Acts it is the Word of God that spreads and causes the explosive growth in the early church (e.g., Acts 6:7). Of course first-century believers were doing good works by feeding the poor, looking after the widows, and helping the elderly. But these things were by-products of a life lived for the glory of the gospel; they were not the gospel itself. People in our housing schemes will only be saved if they hear the gospel word proclaimed to them in a clear and comprehensible manner. There is no other way.
3. Because Otherwise We Will Give Up
If we don’t have the gospel right, we can forget any type of serious church planting work in schemes. We must know what we’re coming to do and the state of the people we