Dream Part 2

A friend of mine called months ago needing help.  His father-in-law had been robbed and beaten and needed to see an orthopedist and an ophthalmologist soon.  His eye socket was fractured along with his thumb.  He was in some pain with no insurance and not enough money to get the care he needed.  What would you do if you got that call from a friend?

I called my church.  I spoke to two staff members.  I explained the situation and asked if they could give me the names and numbers of any doctors who are members of our church and might be willing to help out.  I asked for any ideas on how we could help my friend.  Both told me about a state run program in Tennessee.  “Our benevolence fund is empty but maybe TennCare can help,” one said.  Of course I wasn’t asking for money.  I was asking the church to call on it’s members for a little help showing mercy. 

That’s our job, I figure, not the governor’s.

I hung up and tracked down two doctors in our church on my own.  I told them I needed their help and couldn’t pay them much.  I set up the appointments and my friend’s father-in-law was treated at no charge.  The whole situation left me inspired and deeply frustrated.

Our church is large: 5000 members and growing.  Our weekly offering hovers around $90,000.  Weekly.  I know almost every member of our staff, having worked at the church for a stretch twice in the last ten years.  I know them all to love God and love people – it’s printed everywhere you look around the place: “Love God.  Love People.” They’ve loved me well for along long time.  And I’ve seen them love just about every kind of person imaginable, anyone who comes in the door.  Truth is our church gives tens of thousands of dollars annually to various causes and crises.  Haven’t they done enough?  Can they be expected to help me take care of people like my friend and his father-in-law too?

I think so.  I think that’s what the church in Jerusalem – the one we’re told about in the book of Acts – would do.  But before we can do that – I think – we have to do at least three things…

1. Abandon the tithe. It’s not a New Testament church concept.  The tithe had it’s use once upon a time – when the church was state, the temple was the whitehouse and the tithe was a sort of tax on the people of God – and that time is over.  What replaces the tithe in the New Testament is the idea of Jubilee – give and give and give until all are taken care of.  Give until we can say, as the Jerusalem Christians could, that none has a need among us.

2. Make membership meaningful. I signed a membership agreement of sorts when I joined our church – what could be called a covenant.  It’s a set of promises to be kept if I’m to be a functioning appendage in what we call the “Body.” Things like, I will not be divisive but work for unity instead, I will discover what my abilities are and put them to work in the church and the community by serving somehow, I’ll be part of a small group where I can have my name and my life known to others, etc.  And I’ll give.  Thing is, no one’s ever asked how I’m doing at keeping any of these promises.  And if I flat out broke them, broke them all, what would happen then?  Would someone lovingly remind me of that covenant I signed?  Is membership meaningful without expectations?

3. Expand our concept of giving beyond cash to profession and time. Barnabus, again in Acts, is described as a man who sold his land and gave the money to those in need via the church.  Some say buying and selling land was his trade.  It could be that his story then isn’t about giving money, but giving a sizable piece of his business.  I met a doctor on the road who gives 2% of his time and resources to patients who cannot pay him.  A Sunday school teacher gave me a job I was terrible at and unqualified for because I needed it and a mentor years ago.  My mother could retire from the childcare business now but spends her day instead playing with and being a grandmother to disabled children.  My oldest daughter is learning how to knit scarves so she can clothe the cold in Nashville.  What we do is as much a part of what we have to give as the balance in our bank account.

My church is the closest thing to perfect I’ve ever been part of.  But it still hasn’t arrived.  And it never will.  We know this.  But regardless, it’s no less disappointing to me that it’s members are not at the ready when someone needs them – when my friend and I needed them.  But what can be done about that?  How do you connect Christians with needs if the local church isn’t in that business anymore?

I’ve got this dream…