There’s an argument that floats around certain segments of society that says that government should stop providing social services and that churches should do it instead.
That’s a bad idea for numerous reasons.
- Churches don’t have the resources do deal with all the social ills that we face. Many churches are struggling to survive and meet their budgets. In the next 2-5 years there are going to be a slew of churches that close as a result of the pandemic. Churches simply don’t have the resources to handle all the social ills that we face.
- Churches don’t have the staff or the training to deal with the social ills we face. On top of that, rostered leaders and staff at churches are already stretched thin and we have never been trained in dealing with mental health issues on top of the many other challenges that so many face.
- Fixing society is not the churches primary job.
Having said all of that, please keep in mind that this isn’t an all or nothing situation. Churches certainly have a role in dealing with the ills of society. But ideally that happens in partnership with social service agencies, non-profits, government agencies, and more. So many of our societal ills are just too big for any one group to tackle single handedly.
Coordination and cooperation are the key. It’s really the only way to deal with so much of what we face in society.
Add to this advocacy. One of the roles of church is advocacy. Advocacy is speaking up for people whose voice has been silenced. There is a long history of faith communities advocating for others. Scripture is full of stories of advocacy. Esther advocates for her people so they don’t get killed. Prophets are consistently advocating for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners to kings. Jesus advocates for children. And on it goes.
Advocacy is political. But that’s not a problem. Political is just the process that our society uses to work through problems. Advocacy is not partisan though. Partisan would be crossing the line to something inappropriate. There is a difference and that difference is important.
Churches have opportunities to work within communities, partner with organizations, and tackle issues that communities face. They also have an obligation to speak up and advocate for the voiceless in order to prevent people from falling into the issues that communities face.
What makes churches unique in this process is that churches deal with something that so many other organizations can’t – the immaterial aspect of people. I’m talking about spirit and soul. The immaterial need for community. Churches offer pathways to meaning and purpose. Churches are hospitals for the immaterial. And that’s a beautiful thing. Churches also have the ability to speak truths that others would rather ignore because those truths are inconvenient.
But churches are the only answer to society’s ills. We just can’t. Nor should we.