After preaching at a church where a long-time friend of mine served as pastor, I had yet another encounter similar to one I've had for several months now: church members who, after finding out about CitySquare, want to become involved in social justice work and advocacy, and who want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the poor. Some want to enhance the work their church is already doing. Some don't believe their church is doing enough...or anything at all.
This article, cited by Sharon Grigsby of the Dallas Morning News, originally appeared in the Christianity Today, suggests that what I am seeing and hearing in Dallas may be a trend among more churches than I've even realized. And I think that's a good thing.
Doug Banister, a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee, is beginning to rethink the priority that foreign missions receive in his church. Rightly, I believe Banister isn't seeing this as an 'either/or' dilemma, but that the church he serves should be reaching the world...and the poor and underserved in his own city.
"Some well-meaning Christians have a theology of mission that seeks to alleviate the spiritual and physical suffering of people far away, but pays little attention to needs here at home."
"I know because I was one of them. I spent many years taking mission trips to Tulcea, Romania. We shared the gospel, cared for orphans, and started a medical clinic. It seemed that God moved in powerful ways. Then my friends Jon and Toni moved into one of Knoxville's marginalized neighborhoods. Jon invited me to go on prayer walks with him on Wednesday mornings. I saw syringes on playgrounds, prostitutes turning tricks, hustlers selling drugs. Our walks led me to volunteer at the elementary school in Jon's neighborhood. I'd assumed all the schools in our city were pretty much the same. They aren't. Kids with B averages in Jon's school score in the 30th percentile on standardized tests. Kids with B averages in my neighborhood score in the 90th percentile."
"In his book When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert observes that short-term missions have become a $1.6 billion annual enterprise in America. Every year, thousands of Christians in our city take short-term trips that cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per person..."
"I believe in missions. I also believe in short-term mission trips. Yet the longer I work in the resource-poor inner city, the more frustrated I become with the amount of money God's people spend on these brief trips. We seem so eager to spend thousands of dollars sending our people overseas for one week without stopping to ask, "Would some of this money be better invested in my own community?""
"Every time I hear of another $3,000 short-term mission trip, I think about Dan and Mary, whose ministry to Knoxville's refugee community is chronically underfunded. I think about the 1,600 meals that the same sum would pay for at our rescue mission. I think about the inner city schoolteacher who dips into her $34,000 salary to pay for pencils and treats. I think of the 83-year-old widow with the $700 winter heating bill, waiting for a new roof she can't afford. I think about the 50 children of prisoners on the waiting list for the underfunded Amachi mentoring program. I think about the 30 children who have never seen a deer who could go to a Bible camp in the mountains for the same amount of money it takes to send one person overseas for a week. And I think about the starving boy on my swim team."
"I do believe we are changing. Churches in Knoxville with strong foreign mission programs are beginning to invest considerable resources in meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the weakest members of our community" (read the rest of the article here).
That's good news!