Survey Reflection: The Perception of the Individual towards Churches as educators and advocates
Survey Reflection: The Perception of the Individual towards Churches as educators and advocates on their behalf, especially on matters of Societal Issues.
By Benita Lim The Micah-thon survey’s questions and results reveal practices and attitudes towards the proclamation and demonstration of integral missions on these three key fronts: as an individual, as church, and as society. In this brief reflection, I will focus on a key theme that stood out from the survey results: The perception of the individual towards churches as educators and advocates on their behalf, especially on matters of societal issues. A significant number of respondents (86.8%) would like the church to be advocates, speaking up on matters of societal issues, including creation care (82.0%). More than half (60.1%) have been inspired to live generously by example of people in church, and slightly less than half have had the opportunity to serve the poor in their community through church (47.8%). However, there seems to be an uncertainty among respondents towards where their churches may stand on societal issues. The experience by individuals on a more long-term and in-depth actions (contra. exposure trips or one off volunteerism) by their churches is comparatively low, as less than 30% have experienced their church actively educating and advocating the needs of the poor and marginalised. Furthermore, although almost 70% say that their church is making a difference on issues of poverty and justice, it is noteworthy that only 15% are “definitely” sure. It is therefore striking to see that while an overwhelming majority of respondents carry the perception that churches ought to highly concerned about societal issues, for many, it may seem as though their churches are not doing as much in these areas. This could be exacerbated by the perceived lack of clear education and active advocacy by their churches. On the other hand, the survey reflects that individuals may carry the hope that their churches do more proclamation on their behalf. Almost 44.7% say that they do not know where to start regarding societal issues. On a neighbourliness level, the respondents do much better when it comes to individual care and concern for people around them in their vicinities. However, to be able to share the Gospel with words, entering into integral mission’s “proclamation” aspect of evangelism, there is a greater ambivalence on the individual level — only 20% “definitely” seeks to share the Good News with non-believers (it should be brought to our attention in most of the responses, a significantly larger group falls in the category of “somewhat describes my life” than “accurately” — which should lead us to wonder why there is a significant number of “somewhat-ness” among respondents regarding Christian living). Yet, interestingly, there is a split down the middle regarding response rates of those who are supportive of the fact that their church’s efforts at good works is in order to invite people to church (50.9%). In other words, since individuals find it challenging to verbally share the Gospel with non-Christians around them, and may not sure how to go about doing so, there may be an unspoken hope that the Church will not only be greatly involved in demonstration, but exercise more of the “proclamation” aspect—using words to verbalise the Gospel or vocalise about societal issues—on their behalf. The perception of the individual towards their churches may thus be that churches would step in to lead the way forward as educators and advocates, especially on matters of societal issues. However, this may often not be the case. From these results, my personal observations, and my own experiences, my reflection is that there has and will always be tensions between the individual Christian and their churches when it comes to matters of societal issues. For the younger generation, it can feel like teaching parents to use the handphone or the Internet—we may expect those who are older and have resources and power to “get it”, and speak up for us—but somehow they do not seem to be able to do so. I have also often felt as though churches were more interested in creating things for clergy and laypersons to do within its walls than outside of it. But these results also call for us to reflect upon our perceptions that the church must advocate and educate, or to proclaim and demonstrate—on our behalf. Churches may need to lead the way—but we as church members should not be simplistic about it. The church is unfortunately not only a building that we can easily tear down and build up according to what we want. It is also made up of different bodies who have lived through different life experiences, just like you and I.
Every body is constantly navigating roles in society as individual citizens and communal institutions on one hand, and as God’s people and God’s kingdom on the other. This means that our church leaders are figuring out their world and their engagement of it, too. If they are unable to move at the same pace, then, it may be that you and I who need to be the ones initiating advocating and educating—on the church’s behalf—for the church’s benefit.
St. Paul urges us to stay united in concern for each other, that “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Cor 12:21). It does not have to be one or the other, because working in church, with church, and with society is always going to be a tender dance of bodies — where “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12:26).
Yes, the reality is that we will inevitably step on one another’s toes in this dance, and everyone suffers with it, integral mission included. But, as the Body of Christ, we still need each other for Christ’s redeeming love to be shown. Sometimes, it may not be the display of knowledge or the shouting of prophecies, but the sobering act of love and reconciliation among ourselves (1 Cor 13:2) that can proclaim and demonstrate God’s justice in society more than we may realise.
May the Micah-thon lead us to constructive and meaningful conversations as we humbly consider our strengths and weaknesses, our unique roles in church and society in integral missions, and do what is good in God’s eyes with much fear and trembling.
Benita Lim is currently a PhD student (Theology and Culture) at Fuller Theological Seminary whose passion lies in uncovering how God can, and will, one day be worshipped by every tongue, tribe and people of this world.