Legislating Communities of Kindness: a Lesson for the Church
A NYTimes article I read this morning gave me a good lift onto a soapbox of special concern to me. The article addresses the issue of reducing the prevalence of bullying in schools, evaluating in particular the recent anti-bullying legislation passed in Massachusetts. But bullying is not my soapbox. Consider this quote:
"To the extent that it underlines the importance of the problem and demands that schools figure out how to address it, it is a move in the right direction. But legislation alone can’t create kinder communities or teach children how to get along. That will take a much deeper rethinking of what schools should do for their students."
The principle here is that "legislation alone cannot __________." It is, as they said, always "a move in the right direction." It may produce some measurable results, but it will never solve the problem in substantial measure. Legislation has its place. But the lesson for us is that it is never sufficient, and in some cases, it may even impede progress.
But what about my soapbox?
Far too many churches, including many (most?) of the largest and most influential, have the mindset that a particular program or ministry (the church's version of legislation) is going to produce substantial results in the area targeted. One of the easiest to pick on is the "discipleship program/ministry." Discipleship is what the church, the whole church, every aspect of the church, is called to produce. Simply legislating a ministry by that name has the unintended consequence of giving the impression that discipleship is what happens "over there." Perhaps simply a name change is in order. I suspect that churches who designate significant funds to a "discipleship program" really do take discipleship seriously at a certain level. They've put their money where their mouth is. But they betray an ignorance of what discipleship truly entails, and what produces it, when they do this. Because discipleship is a whole-community activity.
And so is everything else! It will take more than a "worship ministry" to facilitate seven-day-a-week worshipers. More than an "evangelism ministry" to produce evangelists and effective evangelism. More than an "apologetics ministry" to produce good apologists. More than a "mercy ministry" to embody the kind of compassion Jesus displays and desires. More than a small groups ministry to facilitate the kind of "body life" that one would expect of a church that embraces the Bible as its rule of faith and practice.
All of these "legislations" are "moves in the right direction." I don't (necessarily) suggest eliminating them—unless they prove to be an obstacle to a holistic embrace of _________ for your particular church. My charge to us: let us not stop at legislation and think we've done our job. And let us not give ourselves and others the impression that this or that aspect of ministry is what happens "over there" in the one by that title. True, biblical church, incarnated in 21st century [you name the place], "will take a much deeper rethinking" of what church is and how we can be more holistically faithful to our mission.