I am reading Sapiens, a history of humanity, and read the chapter on the relationship between science and empire. In 1500 AD, the European economy was probably less than 1/0 the economy of China, was far less important than several of the empires in the near and far east or Africa or the Americas at the time. Within 300 years Europeans conquered most of the world. A key to their growth in power and wealth and their success in many things was that they embraced the fact that they were ignorant of much and sought to replace that ignorance with knowledge.
I look at the history of the church and at churches in the world today and it seems that churches that admit they do not know what people need, and eagerly seek out that knowledge and seek ways of meeting their needs can have surprising success. Many churches that seem to believe that they know how church should be and what churches should do, and persist in that understanding wither away as their answers meet the needs of fewer and fewer people.
In my second Billy Graham School of Evangelism, I attended a workshop put on by Care Ministries. The first thing I learned was how to train welcomers, people whose task was to identify visitors and immediately begin the work of helping them become part of the congregation. The second thing I learned was the importance of seeking out changes in the lives of the people in the community and being ready to respond to needs as they emerge. One of their mantras was asking, “What difference did our church make in the community last week?”
This requires noticing events and understanding possible consequences of those events in the lives of the people in the community. If someone learns that the wife of the garage owner was hurt in an accident, being ready to go to the owner and say something like, “We heard that ____ was hurt yesterday. Can we bring your family supper this evening?” This is for anyone in the community, not just people associated with the church. Caring ministry recognizes needs and responds with actions, not just prayers. Prayers without actions are like noise in the wind.
A challenge for us at St. Andrew’s is that we are no longer part of a clearly definable community, but it does not prevent us from actively looking for opportunities to help. We already, through the Community Ministries Fund, provide important and appreciated assistance to people with critical needs, and we are an important lifeline for several social service agencies, possibly helping more people than most members realize. But this ministry leaves the task of caring to the supporters of this fund and to a few staff and volunteers. My invitation is to every member to watch for opportunities for us to respond to needs before we are even asked.
Admit our ignorance and then eagerly watch for opportunities to learn and respond. Ignorance, recognized and appreciated for the opportunities for learning and growing, truly can be bliss!