Thursday, February 22, 2007

Benevolence & Church Planting

A second “invariable mark” of church planting movements around the world is that they are deeply devoted to displaying the love of Christ by reaching out to the poor, the broken, the hurting, and the desperate, no matter what the cost. And as with prayer, this activity is not so much a program of the church as it is a way of life that naturally follows from being loved by Christ and from loving him. The leadership in these movements gives shape to the various outreaches, but the passion comes from the people.

One of the main reasons this kind of enduring passion is bubbling up in the hearts of the people is that they are devoted to prayer. And when a person is truly devoted to prayer they come to love what God loves, to feel what God feels, and to act as God leads them to act. And surely, one of the things God loves is for us to love the poor and the helpless and the orphan and the widow. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).

Indeed, it would be a grave error to categorize these activities as mere “social action,” rather they must be understood as visible displays of the beauty and transforming power of the gospel.
In the 1000s of interviews that Dr. Slack conducted, a high percentage of people said that the reason they first came to the church was because the people of the church, who did not know them at all, went so far out of their way to love them without asking anything in return. This is not to say that the believers in these chruches were slow to share the gospel, rather it is to say that they did not use benevolence as bait for the gospel. They were simply being Christians, and their love made the gospel easier to receive.

Thus, if we are to see church planting movements spring up in the U.S.A., we will have to drive people to their knees where they will taste the compassionate heart of God and be set aflame to love people right where they are, no matter what the cost.

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