By Paul Koch –
Over the years I have noticed a strange phenomenon that develops among local congregations. And I’m not talking about congregations of different denominations in the same area (that would be another article for another time). I’m talking about the regional groups of churches holding a common confession that are situated relatively close to one another. In the LC-MS we call these groups circuits. Now some circuits are quite active; the pastors meet every month for mutual conversation and building up of the brothers, perhaps the congregations even have a mission society or a school that they rally around. But in reality most circuits are far less organized. There is rampant distrust among the pastors, and disagreement about worship styles halt most common endeavors before they can really get started.
This creates an ethos where everyone is looking beyond their local community to national or international endeavors. In other words, it turns out that it is easier to rally support and resources to send an offering half way around the world than it is to support the struggling congregation no more than a 20 minute drive from your own church.
The reality is this is a very easy thing to do. In fact it is often encouraged. My mailbox at the church is stuffed with opportunities to support missions around the world. From third-world countries needing basic healthcare and safe drinking water, to people working to feed the hungry in our own country, to special organizations championing one cause or another there is a constant flow of those with hands out looking for help. Add to this the encouraging pleas from within our own church’s bureaucracy to funnel our offering to this or that organization, and it becomes quite easy to overlook our neighbor.
Now I know it is easy to make the argument that the evangelists doing work in Tanzania are our neighbors, but it seems strange to me that we would overlook the neighbor we could actually see on a weekly basis to focus on those so far away.
Let me give but one example of what I’m getting at. A while back I was at a circuit meeting where one of the district bureaucrats was present to fill us in on the missionary efforts of the district. A major discussion ensued regarding a new endeavor to make an impact in the city of Los Angeles. Now this is a worthy endeavor, one that is easy to get behind and a lot of noise was made about helping this work, pledging support, committing to pray for them, etc. However in that same meeting we had spoken about a brother who was leaving the ministry because his troubled and financially distraught congregation no longer supported him. Now he wasn’t at our gathering so we didn’t have to endure his awkward glances as we eagerly sought to support work in LA but did nothing for our brother down the street.
I think it is fair to ask if we could have fixed his situation. I don’t really know, somehow I doubt we could have righted the ship completely. But the problem, as I see it, is we didn’t even try! We overlooked the familiar for the dream of the unknown.
I often wonder if the words of our Lord in Matthew 18 can apply corporately to congregations. Is it fair to speak about the greatest congregation in the circuit as being the one most in need: the little child, the broken sinner, the lost lamb? If so, imagine how different it would be for the congregations of a circuit to rally around the greatest: lifting them up, giving them support, pledging them their resources and guidance.
Perhaps it is time to think locally with regard to our conduct as the church. Before we address the never-ending line of good causes with their hands out, let us at least ask if our neighbor down the street needs any help. Let us invest in the hurt and confusion and suffering of those we actually walk along side of.