If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve probably gone through the struggle of whether or not you should commit yourself to a life of ministry. Everyone goes through the question sooner or later. Should you quit your day job and become a pastor? What about a full-time missionary? Perhaps closing yourself in your room to pray from morning to night is the answer.
But if you think about it, the true Christian walk isn’t defined by service to “the church.” It’s defined by service as “the Church.”
“The church” vs. “the Church”
The one capital letter makes a huge difference. We are the Church — not a building, not a pulpit, and not the flock of the clergy.
That’s why the concept of “faith without works” is crucial. We’re not to simply spend Sunday morning in church, pray, do our devotions, and then forget it all as we go about our business, as folk so often do.
Christians are called to revolutionize their lives and lifestyles, regardless of their occupation.
The early church that surrounded James when he wrote the famous words,“Faith without works is dead,” was steeped in a fresh, new culture of action. How do we know this? Because they had just seen Jesus acting it out, demonstrating it, and teaching it for three straight years of ministry.
While he spent time talking, explaining, and sharing parables to help teach those that came to him, Jesus spent a huge amount of his time actually doing things. He was a social deviant who wasn’t interested in things like institutional religion or human-made hierarchical structures of authority. He was a doer. A mover and a shaker. While everything he did was dripping with deeper spiritual meaning and principles, the plain fact of the matter is that when he saw hungry souls, he fed them physical bread and fish. When he saw the sick, he healed them. When he saw the dead, he raised them.
Put simply, Jesus was heavily invested in works.
Faith With Works
So, what can we do? What can Christians do in order to take our faith into the world and show Jesus through our actions?
We need to start by prayerfully opening our eyes to the needs around us. A good spot for inspiration is the list of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work. It was developed by the American Academy of Social Work & Welfare in order to blend science and social work in an attempt to come up with the most effective ways to approach creating social change and improvement.
The 12 Grand Challenges include things like:
* Ensuring that all youths have a path to healthy development, including mental health.
* Bringing an end to family violence.
* Eradicating homelessness.
* Reducing cases of extreme economic inequality.
* Bringing about justice and equal opportunities.
Many of these social goals fall very closely in line with the things that Jesus, himself, taught while he was alive. In the Sermon on the Mount, he exposed even the most basic insult (those who are “angry with their brother”) as intimately connected with hatred and violence. He spoke of ministry to widows and orphans. He taught to share and give recklessly, trusting in God’s provision over our own selfish exploits and accomplishments.
In other words, championing social justice can be part of your Christian walk. A volunteer at a local shelter or a health information management professional prepping for a looming emergency can be just as effective in spreading the gospel as any preacher. When done prayerfully, social justice becomes a powerful arm of the Christian faith, demonstrating the effects of the Church when it is truly put in motion. It is not perpetually hamstrung by jumping through hoops and tending to outdated traditions that soak up time and valuable resources.
The Effects on Yourself
One of the reasons Jesus’ teaching are so powerful is the reciprocal effect that they can have on ourselves as well. The act of helping others is something that is, in and of itself, immensely gratifying. It brings us together and binds us in community and love.
The science even bears this one out. People who volunteer have been known to live longer lives, feel better about themselves, and have a more positive outlook on life in general. In fact, the very act of choosing to care for others over ourselves has been shown to decrease stress through blood pressure and inflammation.
And again, we’re not just talking about exhilarating situations where you quit your day job to do something radical. Even the simple act of surrendering a seat on the subway to someone who is physically ill, or being there to support someone as they go through hard times, can have a huge impact on both ourselves and those around us.
Hustling in Our Faith
Remember, the Christian life consists of both faith and works, working together. The latter coming from the former, yet both stand as a powerful testimony of Jesus in the world around you. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, if you’re in leadership or simply following, or if you’re helping provide clean water in distressed areas overseas or talking through depression with a friend — there’s always a way to show Jesus through our actions as well as our words.