Yesterday, I had the priviledge of working on a Habitat for Humanity build. Despite the excessive temperatures and the amount of "hurry up and wait" while people figured out what was going on, it was good times. We were fortunate enough to be able to work along with the actual homeowner on building his house. The homeowner was quite a character. He was funny and full of crazy stories about his life. Not everyone gets to say they met the people who built their house, or as was the case yesterday, the people who hung insulation in their walls and installed vinyl siding.
I love what Habitat provides for people: an opportunity to own a home. They aren't just sticking people in sub-standard low-income housing but instead giving the chance to buy a brand-new house. Not only does this meet a basic need for safe, adequate shelter, but it also allows people to retain their dignity and give them a sense of accomplishment. Habitat requires their homeowners to go through an application process and once they are approved for a house, they spend time providing "sweat equity" by working on their own builds. Homeowners make payments towards a no-interest loan on their homes. Habitat also requires attendance at classes for money management and home care.
Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and eats for a lifetime.
What never ceases to amaze me is the amount of money that modern Christian churches pour into their own congregations. These massive McChurches with state-of-the-art A/V systems, modern facilities, and such Christian necessities as coffeehouses, bookstores, gyms. Sure these congrgations grow and grow HUGE. But is this the way Christ intended the church to flourish? Because of amneties or because of the Christian philosophy as it is displayed by the church members?
If you look at the history of the early, 1st century Christian church, there were multiple cultish offshoots of Christianity that grew in numbers and threatened the doctrine of the faith, like the Gnostics. These offshoots became popular because they preached a version gospel that was what people wanted to hear. Similiarly, is the modern church growing because we are living up to the ideal marked out by Christ or because we are giving people what they want like entertainment and a social circle?
Instead of recycling all that money back into ourselves, what great good could we accomplish in the name of Christianity? Would it not be a better witness for Christ if we provided someone living in poverty with a chance at a better life instead of "Come hang out with us at our massively expensive church. Have fun, be entertained, eat some food, work out at our gym." How many houses could Habitat build in the Richmond area with the money local churches have funneled into building programs that ultimately serve as a benefit to the existing congregation?
Does the modern America church serve Christ's creed or ourselves? Are we really loving our neighbor or loving ourselves?
My personal opinion is that most churches don't want to spend a large amount of their time or money as a congregation helping out those less fortunate (or as Christ called them "the least of these.") because these low-income individuals aren't the ideal members to recruit. They don't bring in the big bucks in terms of donations which ultimately goes back into providing more benefits to the congregation with fancy facilities and toys. The church wants the middle and upper-middle class members who'll write the fat checks. Plus, we all want to feel like we are part of the winning team. If you attend a McChurch, you must be part of a winning team right?
Sometimes I feel like my tithe could be better served by organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Samaritan's Purse, or other individual missionaries around the world. These groups are living up to Christ's statement, "Whenever do you this for the least of these, you do this for me."
There have been so many times when I've looked at my own church and thought that we are slowly growing more and more self-involved. Our vision has turned more self-serving than outward-reaching. We once had a brief period where two and three mission trips were planned a year. Now I feel like, outside of VBS and a lone trip to Haiti, all of our events are just focused around "fellowship" (AKA the Christian euphamism for "stuffing our faces") with the thin veneer of "outreach". Even our recent fundraisers have been either for something that would benefit the congregation or at least a couple of members of the congregations.
My great fear is that we will become those churches Marv Westfall talked about a few years back, the ones that stopped increasing or even stopped providing funds to missions because they had sucked all their budget into "the building". Honestly, I don't know what I would do if that happened.