People are drawn to the gospel when they see Christians acting like Christ. This is the impulse behind many churches engaged in ministries of justice and mercy.
Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice, says, "Justice is not about causes or issues. It is about people.
It is about loving our neighbors as ourselves. When you are acting like Jesus with people they begin asking questions such as, 'Why are you doing this for us? Where is this love coming from?' Unfortunately so many people have developed such a negative perception of Christians as all talk and no deeds, that in these days if you just start talking about Christianity they will shut you down. But when we lead with acts of mercy, acts of justice, acts of love and we do it in Jesus' name, it opens a whole new realm of conversation."
Here's how three churches are putting justice, mercy, and the gospel into practice.
Tipp City, Ohio
• Weekly attendance: 4,500
• Multi-site, including house churches
• Association: United Methodist
Since 2004, Ginghamsburg Church has built 173 schools in Darfur that serve 22,000 students and have sponsored a sustainable agricultural project that has now helped to feed an estimated 80,000 Darfuris. The church has also built systems to provide clean water and sanitation.
Ginghamsburg's work in Darfur has not been without risk and danger. In the past year they have had one staff member shot and another kidnapped. However, the sacrifice and work is yielding fruit. Pastor Michael Slaughter tells of sitting with a group of Muslims just after the completion of a school. "Their question to me was, 'Why are you doing this? You're the church.' Now, by this time, we had been working there for three years … before the question was ever asked. We can't preach the gospel there, but we can demonstrate the gospel, and this question gave me the opening to say, 'As a follower of Jesus this is what we believe … that God loves you and your situation is our situation.'"
Slaughter continued to explain that he is now into a five-year conversation explaining what Jesus Christ taught about himself. His position is that in a pre-Christian or post-Christian world, evangelism is by demonstration before proclamation. Proclamation comes after they've seen the gospel in action.
"To Jesus, the church was an active verb and not a passive noun," Slaughter said. "Jesus' followers practiced mission evangelism. The heart of God's mission is serving, and ultimately we must bring people to faith and new birth in Jesus."
The Renew Community
• Weekly attendance: 150
• House Church Network
• Association: Ecclesia Network
J.R. Briggs is founding pastor of the Renew Community, a handful of house churches that gather twice monthly for corporate worship in a small borough 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Theirs is a prime example of a small church getting big things done.
Many of the church's ministries have been initiated by partnering with other groups and agencies. For instance, Manna On Mainstreet, a soup kitchen and food pantry, and ACCESS Services, which serves people with mental and developmental disabilities. As a result several folks with disabilities have become members of the Renew community. The church also works with the local Boys and Girls Clubs, especially with single-parent homes.
Evangelism through justice is at the heart of this congregation, Briggs says. "It might be easy to label these ministries as compassion ministries, but they are justice issues if you consider that no child or adult should be hungry in the midst of our community, with the abundance the rest of us have in the cupboards and refrigerators of our homes. Not having food is wrong."