Does Your Congregation Produce People Steeped in Kindness?I have come to believe that the real test of any Christian congregation is how effective it is at teaching relational wholeness. Does it produce people who are tangibly more Christlike? By that I mean beyond theological questions, Bible studies and carefully honed messages, are the people in this group easily recognized in the wider world because of the practical kindness they exhibit?
Jesus spelled out this goal and its priority in Matthew 24 and 25. He was sitting with His disciples on the Mount of Olives and they questioned Him “privately” about “the sign of your coming and the end of the age” (24:3). Christ begins His response in the next verse and He does not stop speaking until the end of the following chapter (25:46). He shares a number of parables and covers a lot of ground, but the culmination of His teaching in this passage is the parable of the judgment in which God is pictured as dividing the “sheep and the goats” at the end of history. It all boils down, in Christ’s telling, to how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the alien, the poor, the sick and the prisoner (25:35-36).
In this story Jesus identifies Himself personally with the suffering and oppressed. How we treat them is how He perceives us to be respecting or disrespecting Him. In other words, how kind we are to people in the real world is seen by Jesus as the measure of how much we actually love and honor Him.
How do we in practical ways teach this most important truth to the members of our congregation without re-telling the story, re-quoting the scripture passage so often that they no longer hear it?
Give concrete examples of people involved in acts of kindness. Tell brief stories of real people in the congregation and in the local community; bring them into the pulpit for three-minute interviews. One church in Maryland calls it “Caught Being Kind.” The stories range from the deacon who helped a woman change the tire on her car, in his suit, despite the fact that she didn’t attend church, but just happened to have a flat tire on the street in front of the church … to a group of young adult volunteers who provide tutoring in an inner city school. The bottom line is that the more practical examples of real people doing kind things that are shared with the congregation, the more people “get it.”
- Honor people outside the congregation who have made a career of meeting the needs of the suffering and the poor. A church in California recently honored a group of firefighters who rescued an old couple and their pets from the path of a wildfire. A church in Florida regularly honors the nurses who care for the sick in the hospitals and nursing homes in its community. Again, the main point is to provide practical examples of kindness in action.
- Teach people to listen to others. Decades ago, when I first taught a seminar at a church on “friendship evangelism,” I was challenged by some in the group when I spent the first few sessions helping them learn listening skills. Finally, a retired pastor who sat quietly in the back of room and was much respected by the congregation raised his hand. “The only people I ever baptized who stayed in the church were those I spent time listening to,” he said. There was quiet in the room, and then we moved on with the next exercise. The most basic act of kindness we can offer to another person is simply to listen to them. And it prevents all kinds of misunderstandings.
- Involve a group of volunteers in a community needs assessment. It can be begin simply with a “windshield survey” in which teams of two drive grid patterns in the local community for an hour or so, and then gather back at the church to share their observations. The next step could be interviews with civic leaders, asking them what needs they see in the community that our church could address. (The book Understanding Your Community includes an observation checklist for the Windshield Survey and a set of questions for the interviews, as well as a list of key civic leaders that can be found in most towns. It is available from AdventSource.com.)
- Develop a strategy for community involvement which gives opportunities for church volunteers to make connections with needy, hurting people in the local community. Research has shown that not only does this type of strategy give church members opportunities to hone their practical acts of kindness, but it is the most effective way for a church to grow. The reputation of the church and its acts of kindness are shared by word of mouth, and this is more impressive to the onlooking secular world than anything else the church could do.
- Provide opportunities to talk about the kinds of needs, the practical examples of suffering in the local community and the wider world. Many church people would like to have a kind attitude toward the poor and hurting, but do not really understand why people are caught in unemployment, addictions, unhealthy behavior, etc. They need time to talk out their misunderstandings and lack of information. They can benefit from listening to people with firsthand experience in ministering to various kinds of situations and needs.
Christ’s expectation that the people who He will find waiting for Him when He returns will be those who have unknowingly cared for Him in the person of the poor and oppressed is not an impractical notion. In fact, it is right under our noses every day. We just need to develop the eyes and ears of Jesus to see and hear the needs around us. And your congregation can help your people do just that.
Monte Sahlin writes from Ohio.© 2017 - 2020 When People Are Kind. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.