In my experience as a pastor, I have dealt with my fair share of interpersonal conflicts. Whether counseling married couples in an argument or stepping between two church members having a spat, I have noticed that miscommunication plays a key role in these tense scenarios. We think we know what each other is saying, but in reality, we have no clue.
This is why I am so fond of definitions. When we take the time to define our terms, we take major strides towards mutual understanding. We may still disagree; however, we will do so intelligently.
That said, I would like to take some time to define some terms for us so that you can better understand why I believe that community service is not enough. Community service is any act that a person or group does to benefit a local community. Picking up trash in the local park, or mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, or teaching community children about bike safety, these are all examples of community service.
In theory, community service is a great thing, something in which I believe more people should participate. However, community service is not the priority of Christ’s church. Let me say that again, “Community service is not the priority of the Church.”
“But pastor,” some will exclaim, “the Bible calls us to love our neighbors. The Bible calls us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. How can you say that community service is not a priority?” Some will even point to the life of Christ, and all the community service work He did in feeding thousands, and healing many who were sick and hurting. Surely, this shows the importance of being involved in our communities in ways that reflect the love of Christ, right?
Yes, community service is good and important and is a way to live out the command of Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves. However, if we stop at community service, we have failed in our duty as servants of Christ. We show love to the elderly, and children, and the hungry, and the homeless, but if we never get around to sharing the gospel, we have failed. Our job is not to send people well-fed and well-clothed on their way to hell. Our job is to proclaim clearly and explicitly the good news about Jesus Christ!
“But pastor, won’t people see our love in our community service and be drawn to Christ that way?” The answer is no, they won’t. The atheists can run food pantries just as well as the Christians. The Muslims can donate clothing just as well as Christians. Buddhists can paint houses, and Hindus can clean up parks, both just as well as Christians. So, what sets our service apart from theirs?
Consider the words of Romans 10.14-17:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”…Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Community service, by itself, is simply not enough. However, community service coupled with the truth of the gospel message is a powerful display of the love of God. Love not just for the physical, but for the spiritual as well.
Sam Draper is the Senior Pastor at the First Christian Church of Somerset, Pennsylvania.