By Andrea Price @aprice
A huge part of my commitment to service is deeply rooted in my personal theology. My service is the sacrifice that I give because it is my moral and spiritual obligation to do so. However, on my journey to better understand my personal theology and understand what role the faith community plays in service, I’ve become conflicted and somewhat confused. This confusion doesn’t come from my opinion of the theoretical role of the Christian church, but rather from what I have witnessed (or not) as a parishioner. My confusion is exacerbated when I see the people who proclaim to be a part of the faith-community more focused on philandering than philanthropy, when I see service taking a back seat to selfishness, when I see hate towards others and not healing, when money replaces ministry (Yes, I’ve experienced all of this and more.) There is so much work to be done in our communities, but the call to serve is too often left unanswered.
I’ve been a member of 6 different churches in 5 different cities, and for the most part, I was content with just showing up on Sundays and occasionally on Wednesday, enjoying the singing and the sermons/homilies, and then going home. However, for the past five years, I’ve experienced a great longing for more than just the routine. I’ve longed for my experience with other believers to be an experience where service to the broader community is mandatory. The service that I long for consists of fellow believers making a concerted effort to meet the spiritual, emotional, social, occupational, environmental, intellectual and even physical needs of people through philanthropy. For example, when I see people hurting from grief because they are dealing with death or sick family members, parents who have incarcerated children or even children who suffer from hunger, I long for a response. I’ve seen efforts by people to fulfill these needs, which is great, but the work that is necessary in our communities to address deep, complex issues can’t be done alone, and I believe everyone can do something.
What does this longing say about my personal theology? It tells me that my expectations for service extend beyond my efforts and lead me to a place where the faith community has to serve others collectively and outside the four walls of a place of worship. The faith community is a functioning, complex organism and not just an organization. When the body doesn’t attack foreign substances, infections and even death could take place. For this reason, the faith community has to be well equipped to serve and address those parts of our society that could cause pain or even death.
On my journey to greater understanding, I’ve considered the following ways to combat my confusion.
- We have to know the needs of citizens to better understand how to address the needs. “Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:26. Simple conversations with citizens, driving around neighborhoods, reading world news or even attending school board or city council meetings could lead to greater understanding of needs.
Once the needs are known, we have to prioritize them.
- As a community, we have to know what resources we have that will address the identified needs. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10. There is so much potential in faith communities to use resources and do more to address needs, but potential is not the same as production and problem solving. Using our resources to address needs and serve is one way we profess our faith.
- We have to be willing to work with others who have answered the call to serve because “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10. When we are so boxed into our personal faith communities or places of worship, we miss many opportunities to have a greater, positive impact in the work. Governments, businesses, nonprofits, concerned citizens and other faith-based institutions, for example, could potentially become great partners for service.
What are some other ways the faith community can have a great, positive impact in our communities?