Churches & Compassion Fashion

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

I heard author Donald Miller recently use the term “compassion fashion.”  It is the fairly recent trend of large, established churches suddenly engaging in social justice projects like committing to drilling wells in Africa or establish foreign adoption grants, etc. Miller is glad to see “seeker sensitive” churches jump on board such great Kingdom work but he wonders if it will last. 

A counselor once told me that the best indication of future behavior is past behavior.  The guy’s not a cynic.  He believes people can change but acknowledges the reality that real change is rare because it requires such a drastic shift in point-of-view and sustained discipline.  What Miller seems to be worried about, and I am as well, is that many churches are jumping on the international social justice train for a number of poor reasons. 

First of all, there is the seeker sensitive mindset that the real goal is to put cheeks in the seats.  A church often justifies itself as “Biblical” if it is touching on themes from Scripture (even if they do so ever so lightly) or pepper a bunch of verses here and there taken out of context and draws a crowd.  But of course, none of that is “Biblical” but that’s a post for another time.

The point is that these churches have been losing 18-40 year olds steadily for 20 years.  The average age of these congregations are graying.  The seeker sensitive mindset shifts to “what can we do to appeal to this demographic?” or “how can we create energy and excitement that stirs a buzz among ‘the kids these days'”?

These churches all have younger ministers who beg their churches to engage in social justice or they have older ministers who attend conferences and see the effect that groups like Charity Water and Kiva have on the crowd of younger Christians and BINGO.  Suddenly the so-called khaki and SUV crowd as missional leaders derisively call them are into fighting the international sex slave trade or foreign adoption. 

Again, these are good things but the mindset is not necessarily a kingdom mindset as it is a marketing concept, which can, and will change, when these church leaders feel the wind of the culture around them is shifting.   

Scripture teaches to only give with a glad heart (2 Cor. 9:7) but is giving with the joy of a succesful ad campaign really what Paul had in mind? I doubt it. 

Then there is the “relevant” factor.  A number of pastors of churches with good attendance are not unlike rock stars in that when they begin to age they desperately try to recapture their youth by trying to be “hip”–the results are usually pretty sad.  I was at a conference a few years ago when a 60-something minister told the assembled group of pastors that he had kicked off a “cool” evening service with “that rock music the kids enjoy” and that he preached to them in jeans and a tee-shirt.  Let me be candid, that’s not hip–that’s sad. 

Again, I don’t think being “relevant” (i.e., making the pastor feel like he’s younger than he truly is) is what Paul had in mind either.  My mother told me to “act my age” when I was inching toward my teen years…it’s good advice for those over 50 too!  Some of the best advice I ever received was, that unless it is sinful, you have to be who you truly are not who you wish to be.  Remember that envy insults the God who made you who you are.

Am I saying that they should go back to being soft & fluffy seeker sensitive pastors in khakis and button ups? No, I pray that churches really do change and embrace a holistic kingdom vision but one that flows from a changed heart not a selfish need.

Finally, I really want to challenge these churches to consider the ministries they support and why they support them.  Many of the great charities with whom large churches partner are international in scope. What about their own backyard?

In the church I help pastor, Revolution, we decided against partnering with Advent Conspiracy because the funds were shipped overseas.  Again, this is a great ministry and if a church or person is called by God to do it then far be it from me to criticize but we decided to keep our money local because of the great needs all around us.  We spent our Christmas funds on the homeless in our own neighborhoods and those in recovery programs just down the street from the church building. 

Jesus told his disciples that they were to be witnesses for him in Jerusalem then all of Judea and then Samaria and then the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  Maybe I am over reading these passages but it seems to me that Jesus wanted to stress how important it was for the disciples to tend to their own backyard and then the ghetto (Samaria) and then the ends of the earth.  That’s how we have taken it at Revolution anyway. 

So, a major part of our church’s witness is to care for the least among us that are closest to us.  Have these churches prayerfully considered this?

Have they also considered that this is not a program but a way of life? It’s easier to build up to a once a year type event where a church helps the poor or to raise money to hire someone else to go overseas to do the “dirty work” than to train those who proclaim Jesus as King to live a sacrificial life day-in-and-day-out.

Moreover, it is a marketing ploy, let’s face it, clean water in Africa is a lot sexier than feeding a smelly meth tweaker in the part of town we warn our kids to avoid! 

I hope I am way off base here.  I pray that these churches who partner with Rick Warren to fight the African AIDS crisis or with World Vision or Blood:Water Mission, etc. have been specifically called by God to do so and are doing so as a way to show the Father, Son and Spirit how much they love them.  I pray that it continues until our King returns to set things right but I suspect otherwise.


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