Pop Justice: Is social action the latest church trend?

What do a pastor, a politician, and a pop star have in common? Until recently, not much. But Bono, lead singer of the band U2, has managed to unite these unlikely groups around the issue of social justice. As a self-appointed ambassador for the poor, Bono has helped the evangelical church in America become more sensitive to those in need around the world and awakened our marginalized, or in some places forgotten, call to seek justice. But, is the new focus on social justice just another pop-Christian trend? This week Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California, ponders that question.

I had a very, very haunting conversation with a good friend who is a pastor at a church in southern California. We hadn't seen each other for awhile and as we were catching up he was excited about a ministry he was starting with used clothing stores where all the profit goes to orphanages. My friend has had social justice and compassion ministries as major part of his church ethos since it began many years ago, definitely in the PB (pre-Bono) dispensation.

As he was showing me photos of his latest venture with the clothing stores he stopped and said, almost with embarrassment, "This sounds really trendy, doesn't it?" What was haunting to me and what I have thought about since the conversation I had with my friend, is what if it is true? What if social justice and compassion projects are simply the latest trend?

In recent years many churches have become involved in social justice issues, or at least talking about it. Saddleback and Willow Creek have both jumped onboard very strongly, including being a global voice for AIDS. I rarely ever go to a Christian concert, but during the last two I attended videos were shown of the band members in Africa talking about helping with Compassion International and the Invisible Children. And lately it seems at every leaders now bring attention to some international compassion or social justice project they are supporting. This is all so wonderful and must please Jesus so incredibly much.

Bono has certainly caused us all to really evaluate the "sleeping giant" (what he called the church several years ago) and how the church was ignoring the poverty, injustice, and AIDS crisis. He recently said the church has woken up and has now taken notice. But, will it last or will it fade like every other trend?

My friend's comment got me thinking because over the years I have seen the church get excited about "small groups", or about being "seeker sensitive," or "Vineyard worship music" and other various bandwagons the church jumps on for a season. And there have been many other trends that I wasn't a part of like cell churches, or using the baseball diamond for assimilation, or the breakouts of laughing in the Spirit by certain types of churches, or radio preaching, or whatever it may be. Whatever the trend the routine is the same. First there is excitement, then early innovators adopt them (maybe not the laughing in the Spirit), then in time most churches may do it. But eventually, it passes and we wait for the next "new" thing.

September 25, 2006

Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Sandy McCann

October 05, 2006  9:37am

Is it a fad? Fads happen when people remain "on the surface" and don't dig in and "get dirty"...whatever it is they are doing. Obviously there are many committed people and leaders in the church, but what I have seen all too often is they are not effective at transferring the vision for the "get dirty" part. The more immature Christian jumps in, puts "X" on their to do list (never really absorbing the reason) and a fad is born. Before anyone slams me over these comments, I should say I DO believe good is done in the name of God through these endeavors. My question is how much MORE effective for the kingdom might some of these more shallow participants be if we could help them steer their lives into the track God has planned for them instead of just doing what everyone else is doing/thinks they should do?

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September 29, 2006  9:25am

Positively, I don't think it has to be a fad - and indeed I hope it is not. Warily, based upon what is observed of our often fickle evangelical history, I do have my reservations. A very wise man, Robertson McQuilken, once said, "It is far easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay at the center of biblical tension." We are typically a people of extremes. We like to get on band wagons – and then jump off to find another one, when it loses its allure. I pray that this doesn't once again happen.

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September 25, 2006  3:54am

I think some of the bandwagons mentioned are not passing fads, but stuff that becomes normal as it is integrated into the life of the church. Or it provides a launching pad for the next development. It hasn't passed, we just don't notice it anymore or has developed further. If this is the case, then maybe we can hold out some hope that social justice isn't just a trendy passing fad. I'd like to think the church of Jesus Christ is deeper than that.

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