Thursday, September 20, 2007

service & outreach

I was at a conference the last couple days called "Focus Conference," designed to be kind of a continuing education opportunity for people in our yearly meeting who are released ministers, and also a space where they can just hang out and get to know each other and have a community of others in a similar job/vocation. We talked a lot about local outreach--how to do it, what kinds of outreach to do, etc.

One person in my discussion group brought up a good question: is there a difference between service and outreach? If so, which one should the church be about? Our group decided that service is helping meet the needs of others, and outreach is doing that in the name of Christ. The person who brought this up suggested that the church shouldn't do service, but should only do outreach, because the point of outreach is getting people into the church (by which, if we are generous with him, we can say he meant getting people into relationship with God and Jesus in a community setting).

I'm not sure what to think about this. If we look at it from the perspective that anyone who's a Christian who's doing service is doing outreach (by this definition) because they're shining the Light of Christ no matter what they're doing, then yes, Christians should be about outreach--but that kind of defeats the purpose of the distinction. It would make it impossible for Christians to do service only. It would, however, still show a distinction between Christians doing service and others doing service--that there's somehow a difference of quality, in that when Christians do service their motive is to get people into the church, or, hopefully, into relationship with God.

This is where it gets a little dicey to me. Perhaps our motives will always be to introduce people to the life we've found in our relationship with God, and that's great! No matter what we do, we can't keep our Inner Light from shining forth. But I don't think we should engage in service to people just so they'll come to church. If that's a by-product, fine. If people see the truth of a life lived with hope and joy and are attracted to that, fine. But I don't think we should do service just as a way to manipulate people into joining our club, increasing our numbers, as if we're playing some sort of competitive game where the most important thing is getting people to join our team.

I think early Friends did service because they saw Christ in people: they saw the needs of others and knew God loved that person, Christ existed for the sake of that person just as much as for the sake of themselves, and so in order to show love for Christ and for that person as God's beloved child, they did what was just and right for that person or group. They didn't do service in order to get people to join the Quaker movement, although it worked that way.

The difference is one of motives. Their motive was not to get people to join them. They hoped for the sake of the other people that they would see Christ through their actions and have an experience of convincement due to an encounter with the living God. But they weren't just serving people in order for people to become Quakers. They were serving people because they genuinely loved them and wanted to show them the same love they'd received from God.

Maybe this is why I'm a little bit wary of many Christian organizations, and why a lot of people who aren't Christians are extremely wary of them. The motives aren't good. Maybe we can never have completely pure motives, but at least hopefully we can try not to get caught up in the worldly trap of competition for numbers, and just love people. But I'm the first one who needs to work on this!


liberata said...

Hi Cherice,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I'm very slowly (because of work keeping me so busy) making my way through Memoirs of the life and gospel labours of Stephen Grellet. Grellet was an 18th century Friend, born in France, who came to the US with his brother. They were fleeing the Terror (following the French Revolution), because the family was aristocratic.

Grellet became a convinced Friend and was living in New York (if I remember correctly), but felt a leading to come to Philadelphia where a yellow fever epidemic was raging. He immediately began to care for the victims without a thought for his own health and safety. He ended up contracting the disease himself but recovered.

I was just so taken with the fact that no sooner had Grellet become convinced, than he was immediately led to serve and to help the less fortunate. The book incorporates excerpts from his journal, and he never says he's doing what he's doing in the hope of turning more people into Quakers.

Grellet isn't really well known, I don't think, but this famous maxim is attributed to him (although it's also attributed sometimes to William Penn):

I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

I meditate on his saying sometimes, and I am struck by the urgency of it: "Let me not defer it or neglect it..." He seems to be saying that it's up to us to make the world a better place, that this is our true vocation. He doesn't even say: "This is God's will" or anything. He just takes this task upon himself. See someone in need and assist them ... the reason is self-evident.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Jesus, in Luke 10, praised the good Samaritan for what he did, and said that what that Samaritan did was sufficient to win him eternal life, and contrasted his behavior with that of the priest and the Levite.

So whatever the good Samaritan was doing, it was the highest thing from Christ's own viewpoint. And it is Christ who will have the final authority over our fates at the end of time -- not the priests and the Levites, or their modern equivalents the seminary students and seminary graduates.

So what was the good Samaritan doing? Is there any honest way we can say that it was "outreach" and not just "service"?

Tatiana said...

Thank you. You've stated very clearly why I am so wary of Christian (and any other faith-based) charities.