This week, as you may have noticed, lacked any new writing from myself. This is not due to laziness. No, that’s a lie. It is partly due to laziness. Mostly it is due to the fact that I spent a few days in London.
As a part of my course I had the challenging privilege of spending time in the big city to see how Christians in that place had begun to live out their faith. What I saw was astonishing.
Astonishing to see the lives of young, black lads standing witness against the statistics of failure and crime which mark them. Astonishing to hear the drunks and users share stories of God over a greasy burger in a church hall. Astonishing to be in the presence of a man who would have such love as to start a church in the middle of this great urban collision of people.
Indeed this week has shaped me in many ways.
Of course I cannot make assumptions about the organisations I spent time with beyond what I saw, but for the sake of objective reflection I have to assume the projects I saw run in roughly the same way most of the time.
Yet I write this feeling somewhat… unfulfilled. Now I know the purpose of the course is not for me to feel fulfilled, but to my mind there was something lacking. Something important.
The course I was taking was called ‘Urban Evangelism’
Evangelism, as I would describe it, is summarised in the New Oxford American Dictionary:
The spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.
The gospel, to my mind, is the Christian message of forgiveness of sins and restoration of creation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is of great significance for those who are not Christian to know about and be shown Jesus that they might also come to believe in this gospel.
Yet much of what I saw in London did not directly witness to that gospel. In fact much of what I witnessed seemed to fit this definition:
Work carried out by trained personnel with the aim of alleviating the conditions of those in need of help or welfare.
That is known as social work.
So what I was really studying was Christian Social Work.
Now, I can see the inherent goodness of helping people. I can see the obvious transformation in the young men, in the users and in those who would would otherwise be excluded in the urban situation.
But I guess, for me, unless a person comes to know and be known by Jesus, their life is just as wasted as if they had become another anonymous grim statistic.
All the social improvements this world can afford can’t equate to the transformation of a person who comes to the Lord in repentance and submission.
The Apostle Paul said:
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8)
For Paul, there was nothing of more value and worth to knowing Christ. This I have seen to be true in my heart. I feel as though I have withheld the single most significant jewel that this earth cannot afford, kept for myself the costliest treasure from the Eternal Kingdom.
I have found the deepest satisfaction and most lasting joy in glorifying God through Christ. To make Jesus known is to know transcending peace.
And so to offer disadvantaged boys anything less than that is to rob them of God’s great gift. Worse still, to give these boys success in the eyes of world whilst not telling them about Jesus would be to subject their souls to the misery of selfishness and greed. The drab existence of the middle classes.
I want people to know Jesus and to find all their satisfaction and fulfilment in his great love. John Piper summarises:
God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
I don’t want to be a social worker, helping the poor to cope with the hand fate has dealt them. I want to be an Evangelist, inviting all people to come into the knowledge of their Maker through Jesus, being reconciled to one another in the community called ‘Church’.
I think being an Evangelist is going to be harder than being a Social Worker.