The Church Being The Church: Or What My Community Needs

This week A&E’s TV show Intervention did a spotlight on my community. What they revealed for many people watching is that Southern Ohio is trapped by prescription drug abuse. 9.7 million doses of prescription pain killers were dispensed in 2010 from Scioto County, a county of less than 80,000. The A&E special is heartbreaking, even for those of us who already know how bad our situation is. It put skin and bones on our “problem,” and moved it from the realm of abstract difficulties to reality (of course for many it’s long been a reality as they have lost loved ones). What it also reminded me, however, was that what our community (what all communities) needs is for the church to be the church.

In a lot of communities across our nation the church has pulled inward and separated themselves from their communities and their problems. The church, then, is about taking care of our own and meeting our needs. For some its about more flowers, beautifying our buildings, and offering more activities for our members. I am not totally against this, there is a place for this. But by becoming so enclosed and so separatist we have actually robbed our desperate communities of the only hope they can have to be transformed.

For other churches there is a real conviction that our communities need us, but our role, as the church, is simply to “preach at” them. To point out all their sin, to criticize and deride. Or perhaps the goal is even more noble, to evangelize. But beyond that there is nothing more that the church should and can do. This view is certainly somewhat more commendable than the previous, especially considering that evangelism in the church (nationally) is not looking good. But the problem with this approach is that it offers no real help to our communities. To offer people Christ without being willing to get dirty and help them fight the evils of our community is to offer them a seemingly trite answer. It makes me think of James saying that those who say to their poor and hungry brother, “God bless you, be warm and well fed”, but do nothing to aid him are in fact practicing a dead faith (James 2:16). The truth is that the church must be involved in more than evangelism (not less).

Tim Keller has argued this well in his book Generous Justice where he argues that not only is social justice for your city something the church should be part of, but he says to the degree that we understand the gospel we must be part of it (look for my review of this book next week).

More churches need to be involved in their community. I can’t speak for every church in my community, I’ve only had experience with two. But I know that if more churches will get dirty and love their cities with the love of Jesus then, and only then, will true and lasting change happen.

I have much more to say on this and I want to highlight in the coming weeks ways that we can be involved in this problem right here in Scioto County and ways that it is already being addressed.

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