Church Life, Outreach, Missions
An Ounce of Prevention...
by Ed Vasicek
Which man do you believe served the Kingdom of God better: a man who reared his two children well (and they are both walking with the Lord) and reached one other person for Christ in his lifetime (and he is walking with the Lord), or the man whose children have little use for God but who has seen ten professions of faith with two converts walking closely with God? Suppose we up the ante to three—or even five converts who are walking with God?
Although we do not realize it, the way we answer that question can determine the focus of a church. You see, every church has its own character and value system. True, not every church member necessarily agrees with that set of values, but it still dominates the congregation. It seems a no-brainer to me that most of our church folks would prefer the first scenario. I certainly do. This is not to say that we can ever guarantee that scenario.
True, we are not always forced to choose between the options above. There are many godly men and women who have won scores of folks to Christ and still have done a great job rearing their children. And, sadly, it is possible to rear your children well and still see them not walk with Jesus. Each of us has a will, and we cannot and should not attempt to rob our children of the choice to either accept or reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ. While they are minors, we can demand they obey certain restrictions, but conviction must come from the heart. With the freedom to surrender to Christ comes the freedom not to surrender to Him.
Here at HPC, I believe we should do a better job of reaching the lost, particularly as individuals. I believe we should become more alert and actively seek opportunities to share the good news. Pray for God to open doors, believe He will, and then look for those doors! Despite our need to grow in this area, we do have something unique here: a perspective, an approach to the Christian life that is worth reproducing. And part of that perspective is the value of preventing problems, both in the spiritual and relational realm.
Which is better: a church that specializes in reaching homosexuals, or a church that successfully encourages dads to be involved (but not harsh or overbearing) with their children, thus preventing the likelihood of developing homosexual boys? Which is better, a fantastic Christ-centered drug program or encouraging and helping parents to develop a close, alert, and proactive relationship with their children, thus preventing drug use in the first place?
Don't get me wrong. I am for reaching out to the gay community. I am for programs that help people get off of drugs and into God. I am for rescue, repair, redemption, and advancing the Gospel. I don't know how someone could be saved and not be for those things. But the point of my article is this: ministries of rescue receive a lot of attention and glory, and they should. But no one seems to laud ministries of nurture and prevention. No one writes books about that church with the highly successful marriage rate, or the church where people stay out of debt and where workaholism is rare. Sadly, it probably takes a hundred times the funds and a hundred times the amount of energy to successfully rescue people from these horribly messed-up lifestyles than it would to prevent them. Even in good programs, the success rate is limited. On the other hand, if Christian people prioritized their families as second only to God, there might be that much less of a need for rescue. By the way, I said "God" was first. By "God" I mean a sincere and consistent walk with God, not just doing church or even good works.
One of my favorite kind of testimonies goes something like this: "I was raised in a Christian home. As a child, I accepted the Lord Jesus as my personal Savior. I never got into drugs, alcohol, or premarital sex. As I grew in the Lord, I came to a point where I surrendered my will to Him. I began having daily devotions and a joyful walk with the Lord. The Holy Spirit led me to serve the Lord in the church. I prayerfully sought the mate of God's choosing. We were married, had children who now know and love the Lord. We've had a faithful prayer life, and we are always eager to house and help missionaries. We are connected to our community and have a lot of good clean fun. It hasn't always been easy, but it has been rich, deep, and fulfilling. As my spouse and I look back over our 50 years of marriage, we are grateful for the people we have gotten close to, reached, and the joys of serving Him."
Of course they don't print testimonies like that on a tract. But they are the best of all.
Another important point to ponder is this: there are many lost people out there who do not live destructive lives. Decent, family-oriented people of depth who do not know Christ are just as lost as substance abusers or compulsive gamblers. These folks respect solid families and stability of character, but they often go unreached because many ministries target only those whose lives are not working. These folks conclude that church is a haven for people with tons of baggage. Who will reach these "low baggage" people? The answer is simple: we are best at reaching people like us. People who have it together (relatively speaking—we are all messed up in some ways) are best at attracting others like them to the Gospel. Decent lost people need to be delivered from the wrath of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Let's not forget that.
The possibilities for outreach are limitless. As we reach folks with troubled pasts—or those who live lives better than we ourselves do— we need to remember that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Let's reach out, but let's also appreciate the wisdom of personal preemptive strikes! Turn your heart towards God, then turn it toward home.
Reprinted from the June 2003 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA