At least in the West, it seems like we have been swamped by bureaucracy. In almost every field of life we now layer upon layer upon layer of management, bureaucracy and system. We are forever having meetings and preparing programs and this now gazumps all meaningful activity! While I reluctantly accept that this is my lot at work, I fear that this disease is now also overtaking the church.
At the church I attend we are involved with a child sponsorship program with a church community in Indonesia. I think this is a great thing – the church is supporting brothers and sisters who are in need by sharing from their abundant financial resources.
The program is a partnership from the church, through a special 'social justice' committee, through the aid organisation 'Compassion', through the local church in Indonesia and finally to children and their families in the city in Indonesia. The program has received moderately good support from the church (maybe 50 sponsorships from approximately 300 families), but it is not what you would call an overwhelming concern, and it seems a bit like we have done our bit by sending our $40 per month and an occasional letter. We love these children in Indonesia, but through sanitising layers of management – with 'robotic arms' as it were.
However, recently a team of about 8 people went from the church and, amongst other things, spent time with their sponsor children. This appeared to be a life-changing experience, particularly for those from the church who went to Indonesia. They were able to love the children face-to-face, with real arms, person to person. The beauty of this was when the layers of bureaucracy were by-passed (although the trip was organised, sanctioned and overseen by the organisations) the love and fragrance of God was evident.
So why is it that the church is becoming increasingly concerned with structures, programs, institutions and systems - trying to organise love for those in need. Why is it we try and set up nice, clean, sanitised forms of compassion and love and we accept loving with robotic arms, when it is so unsatisfying, so unbiblical, so unlike Jesus. Churches are now setting up programs and committees to organise solutions to a range of issues and concerns they want to address, and in this way church members can do their good works without getting their hands dirty – they do their duty to love 'at a distance'. Programs are not so much an 'outreach', but more than an attempt to 'in-drag'.
I think what God had in mind for the church was for it to meet those in need, and work with them, side-by-side and face-to-face. God doesn't need our money, He asks for us as people, and He wants us to do His work and be His ambassadors, and this cannot be done through bureaucracy. It requires believers to be equipped through the church to then go into the world (that is, beyond the safe and sanitised community and club of the local church) and love and live as Jesus did. The amazing thing is, if we can do this, we will actually be engaged in real worship, and we will know God's blessing in more amazing ways than we will ever know in the church buildings.
So, next time you think about the poor and the needy, try and find a way to actually work with the community (i.e., the people outside the church club). Don't make another committee or program, don't send people to a Christian conference on social justice – equip your people and go out and love with open hearts and dirty hands. It might be messy, but it is what Jesus would do, and the blessings will be immense.