In the 1980s I was inspired by Clive Calver, the then leader of the UK Evangelical Alliance who challenged churches to get involved in their communities through a whole host of 'good works' ministries as a means of winning friends, changing hearts and showing unbelievers that Christians care and don't just want to convert them.
And so it is that churches up and down the land are spending precious time, money, energy, skill, effort, blood, sweat, tears and toil doing good deeds for unbelievers. Lets call it Social Action.
Is this all wrong? No. There are schools, orphanages, drug rehabilitation centres, food distribution programmes, homeless shelters that are very much gospel centred, and people are coming to Christ as a result. Praise the Lord for this.
But there are also many that have long ago stopped preaching the gospel and they really are ineffective. Well-meaning Christians are working hard making sinners more comfortable, well fed, skilled and educated without turning them from their sins and eternal damnation.
Some Christian churches involve themselves in good works ministries for decades, who haven't seen a single person saved through their efforts.
I want to suggest that these ministries are a waste of time if:
- We are neglecting our families
- We are neglecting our own brethren
- We are neglecting the gospel
These ministries particularly attract people who:
- Don't really know how to share their faith, how to guide a conversation, how to articulate the gospel
- Don't want to upset people and want everyone to like them
- Want to get state funding for their schemes
I have a lot of sympathy with the first of these groups - that was me! If it's you, get onto the Way of the Master website and start learning from them and using their materials! Our primary calling in relation to unbelievers is to preach the gospel.
I have a couple of scriptures for the second category:
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. Luke 6:26
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels. Mark 8:38
Some people are simply ashamed of Jesus' words - and don't want to use them!
We need to repent of being people pleasers! Trying to win people to Christ with good deeds but no words is a subtle form of bribery!
Let me quote from KP Yohannan's book Revolution in World Missions*, P.135.
Several years ago, 40 Indian villages, once considered Christian, turned back to Hinduism. Could it be that whole villages that had experienced the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ would turn back into the bondage of Satan?
No. These villages were called 'Christian' only because they had been 'converted' by missionaries who used hospitals, material goods and other incentives to attract them to Christianity... In missionary terms they were 'rice Christians'. They never understood the true gospel of the Bible. After all the effort, these people were as lost as ever.
*This book is, in my view, one of the most important ones written in the last 50 years, and I will quote from this several times.