Theology in action

Used with permission.

Your faith is seen by what you do (James 2:18), so what are you preaching through your ministry’s deeds? In How Christian is my ministry? I dealt with the same issue in terms of the employment relationship, but now I want to approach it from a different angle: What do your programs and practices say about your theology? How can you ensure there is integrity between what you say you believe and what you actually do? Our actions will be a powerful witness to the public if they align with what we say about God, and we will bring discredit to God (and ourselves) if they don’t. Here are two real-life examples to show you what I mean. They are drawn from fundraising programs run by World Vision Canada and International Teams Canada. I asked the two ministries to read the following paragraphs and they gave me their approval to use them as examples.

World Vision Canada

World Vision Canada sponsors the “30 Hour Famine,” an annual event in which people get together as a group and go without food for 30 hours while doing a variety of fun activities and educational sessions on poverty and hunger. What theological statements could this program be making? The design of the program speaks volumes: a simple donation is not enough! Donors can’t simply use money to avoid confronting an unpleasant issue. Rather, they are asked to share in the experience of hunger, to suffer alongside those who live with hunger every day. Doing so, they might get a glimpse of God, not hovering dispassionately somewhere “out there,” but suffering along with humanity, being moved by our plight (e.g., Exo 3:7).  Participants are acting like Job’s three friends, who did one thing very well; they came and they sat silently with Job for seven days and nights.  They identified with Job’s grief and sympathized and comforted him by sharing in the grief ritual: they tore their own clothes, threw dust over their heads, and they wept with him.  A strong theology of suffering can be discerned in this program. Observers of the “30 Hour Famine” might also get the idea that Christianity sees all humanity as one family, with responsibilities for each other. All are made in the image of God and all deserve their fair share of God’s creation, regardless of their faith. We can infer from the “30 Hour Famine” that indeed we are “our brother’s keeper,” something that Cain, holding a worldly perspective, rejected (Gen 4:9).

International Teams Canada

International Teams Canada has a “Ride for Refugees.” This family-friendly event raises awareness of refugees and internally displaced people. Participants have a choice of routes for a bicycle ride, ranging from 10 km to 100 km. An observer might realize that all of life can be put to use for God, because the program is based on recreational biking rather than an overtly spiritual activity.  Participants can have fun while serving God. By  offering routes that accommodate everyone from young to old, beginner to expert, single or with children, the ministry is modelling an inclusive theology that holds that everyone can be used by God. Churches and charities that arrange rides in their local community are allowed to direct 50% of the money raised to a qualifying refugee, ethnic or immigrant ministry of their choice (including a program of their own). An astute observer would see an open-handed theology of generosity that supports a spirit of cooperation between ministries, based on a theology of common mission and a belief that God will generously provide the necessary resources.

World Vision Canada and International Teams Canada may or may not have designed their programs with these  theological points in mind, but however they designed them, theological reflection reveals that they are well designed and make valid theological points.

Question to ask

When you look at your programs, policies and practices, here are some questions to help you reflect on how well your espoused theology is reflected in them:

  • What assumptions do they make regarding
    • values,
    • motivation, and
    • the root issue or problem?
  • What are the relevant theological truths or doctrines for each one?
  • What do they say about our view of God and humanity?
  • How do they line up with our Christian responsibilities and ethics?

A challenge

Scott Rodin, in Stewards In The Kingdom: A Theology Of Life In All Its Fullness, has a challenge that every Christian management team should take up. His question relates specifically to stewardship practices, but it applies across the board to all organizational practices. He asks:

If we were to start from scratch, with no preconceived ideas with regards to what works in fundraising but only with a firm commitment to the ethics of the kingdom of God in which we live, what kind of development program would we build? What would it look like, what techniques would we use and, most importantly, what would be the assumptions upon which this program would be based?

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