So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV
I arrived at the Christian Reformed Church of St. Joseph in 2006 eager to pastor the congregation. During the initial transition phase, we chose to evaluate our ministry of outreach. The prevailing idea, as it is in many churches, was do good things for people.
But as we studied Ephesians 4, we wrestled with the existing definition of outreach. What does it mean to become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ? How does it happen? And specifically, what do believers need so they are equipped for works of service/outreach?
Two Tables of the Law
As we struggled to articulate outreach from a biblical perspective, we brought it back to the basic framework of the two tables of the law1. The first four of the Ten Commandments, or the first table of the law, address one’s obligations to worship God. The last six commandments, the second table, address one’s civil responsibilities.
Two Aspects of Outreach
From here we identified the two aspects of outreach. From the first table of the law we acknowledge our relationship with God: telling others about him. From the second table we recognize our relationship with others: engaging in our culture as citizens of our community, state, nation and world.
To this end, we formed a Cultural Engagement Committee. Their mandate: to educate and mobilize the congregation so that we are equipped to bring others into relationship with God in the context of being knowledgeable and involved citizens.
From Knowing to Doing
Education, it seemed, was straightforward. However, as we looked at the commandments in the Old Testament, we realized they are not as direct as we anticipated. At first, we tended to see specific actions rather than themes. For example, we considered the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not murder, as a category that describes the sanctity of life. With more study, our understanding broadened. Certainly taking another’s life falls under this topic, but so does the positive aspects of protecting, nurturing, and enhancing life.
Beyond the knowledge, then, became the question of mobilization: “Now what do we do about it?” We felt the need to rally, but how could we help people take action?
Our basic ministry objective is to equip believers in order to mature their faith.
First, we need factual knowledge of God and of ourselves. Second, we gain experiential knowledge of God as we take what God says and put it into action. Putting faith into action matures us in the faith.
Compassion International, in particular, fits right in the center of this subject of sanctity of life in terms of how God wants us to live with others and to value them as individuals bearing God’s image. To sponsor children is to honor those children’s lives — their potential, their purpose, and their worth as they are created in God’s divine love.
The people in our church have increasingly embraced their responsibility — and privilege — to influence the culture around them. Although it has not been without difficulties along the way!
When we chose to take a biblical approach on certain issues, we knew this might invite controversy because some topics are hotly debated. But tension did not keep us from asking the tough questions because the only other option was to disengage from the conversation or leave people to their own thinking. Some congregants are guided by culture’s viewpoint rather than biblical teaching, and ignoring this would not be faithful.
Throughout the years, God has refined us in this area of cultural engagement. As we search the Scriptures, we know that God has a position on all areas of life. While there may not be a specific verse that spells out God’s perspective, the themes and principles there give us clear direction. And, we know he wants to work through us in the culture as his truth and grace in these areas too draw others to him.
Rocky Start, Growing Awareness
At the beginning of our cultural engagement journey, there were a number of people in the congregation who were not on board with this new approach, or even with our new definition of “outreach.” But more and more, our church has grown in unity regarding the biblical perspective of social issues. It took some time to get to where we are today, but that’s to be expected.
Have we fully completed the journey to attain to
the whole measure of the fullness of Christ? No, and certainly there will always be patience for healthy debate and hearts seeking to learn. But at the core, we want to walk in the footsteps of Christ in all aspects of our culture.
Living a life worthy of the calling we have received as believers is being light in a dark world. Leading a church to look beyond the walls of the building is always a challenge. But Compassion International helps us create an environment of outward focus. Overall, there is growing awareness in our church that we have influence as believers — and that we need to leverage it.
Compassion International embodies our church’s commitment to the Ephesians 4 definition of outreach — to bring children into relationship with their Savior (evangelism) and to mobilize our congregants to live well with those around the globe in social relationship (cultural engagement).
Other non-government organizations are doing good things for people, but Compassion gives us the opportunity to work with churches around the world for the work of the gospel. This is a critical component as we consider our ministry partners, and Compassion rounds out our global outreach objectives quite nicely.
1Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.