Social concerns refer to the attention given to human imbalances, pain, injustice, suffering and all other occurrences that make life to be a bitter experience. It supposes that Christians have eyes, ears, feelings and a will to do something that alleviates human suffering and/or pain.

There are two sides of social concerns: One is social action while the other is social service. In social action, Christians become activists, mobilisers and whistle blowers. They tackle political, economic social structures and issues of injustice by being advocates for change. They seek to transform these areas by making society see the light and rise to action. In social service, Christians get dirty or soil their hands. They do the actual job of practically relieving human suffering by targeting individuals or families that are in a helpless situation. These are sometimes called works of mercy. Mercy goes beyond an emotional wave of pity. It is seeing the sufferer until you are able to identify with the situation, then offering help that reduces some of the pain.

With that background then, let us look at the question of our involvement. Should our pastors, or individual Christians, or families, or churches be involved? We are accused of being like factory workers who study the manual of the machines everyday without putting into practice what we study. Is there some truth to that accusation?

The Bible clearly states that Christians have a duty to the poor (Mt. 25:31-46, Lk. 16: 19-25, 2 Cor. 8:13-15).   Our mission goes beyond winning people to Christ. If we limit our mission to gospel proclamation only, many people will view Christianity as a club of holy people who have no real relevance to life on earth. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught about social and cultural issues, civil matters, society and government, in short he tackled the whole of life. Apart from social action he was also involved in social concerns. He touched the lonely leper and healed him, fed hungry multitudes, wept at a funeral and raised the dead. Many other things show us that the heart of our Lord went after the sufferers.

INDIVIDUAL CHRISTAN’S ROLE

Firstly, You need a wholehearted devotion to God. Worship the Lord your God (Lk. 10:27, Deut. 6:5). We know that our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Pray, read your Bible, study, meditate, do not neglect fellowship with the believers.  By and large, we have done this but we should not relax.

Secondly, do not forget the rule of charity (Lk. 10:27, Lev. 19:9-18, Mt. 25:35-36).  The golden rule of life is that you do to others as you would like them do to you.  Please, help the needy and show mercy. Is there a sick person in Church, family or neighbour? When did you last pass by? What valuable help did you give?  Is the way you treat them they way you would like to be treated? Is somebody poor? Have you considered what you might do to alleviate his or her suffering? Sad to say that we hear shameful prayer requests in our fellowships like someone needing a belt, a shoe, a tie, or sugar has run out etc.). ‘What good is it, my brothers; if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him “Go I wish you well; keep warm and well led” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?’ (James 2: 14-16).  In fact James goes on to declare that such faith is dead. Indeed it is true that one can perfectly straighten his or her doctrine and still miss out on God’s will. Good works prove the presence of faith in you. They are not a means to faith. Think about widows and orphans that you know. Isn’t there a way you can help? Do what you can. Offer your two fish and five loaves. It is the Lord that takes over from there. In theses days of HIV/AIDS, an individual Christian can go a long way in helping both in prevention and intervention.  Also you can be involved in impact mitigation.

As an individual speak the truth and stand for the truth. Do not fear what you may be called and how some may view you. Some of us stay away from good causes in our own communities and hence lose out even on the opportunities for showing God’s mercy and proclaiming the gospel. If we are silent, demons will speak. I hope somebody will think twice and rise from his or her comfort zone. We are the mouth, feet and hands of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ.

THE ROLE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY

For the family, social concerns being in its ‘Jerusalem’, take care of the sick family members.  It does not make sense to go and visit and provide for a sick distant person while neglecting a family member. With long illness comes the depletion of our emotional banks. When our feelings of mercy are depleted we can easily become unsympathetic and less helpful to terminally ill family members. Care for them – even if you know why they are in that state. Charity begins at home – Somebody has said.  Let families also take care of their aged. Old people sometimes become a big burden – how will it be however to join a Church in ministering at a home for the aged while you have left your grandfather in the cold. Think of old family members in the village or where ever they may be.  Be responsible for their well being. Widows and orphans have family attachments too and some of these families are Christian. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep one self from being polluted by world” (James 1: 27).”  Times are hard I know but is it not true that there is nothing we can do about widows, widowers and orphans in our families? Widows suffer pain and trauma that none but a fellow widow would understand. The vacuum left by a spouse is too big and what is more, despite leaving them out, they are put through dehumanising rituals by our other unbelieving relatives. Fight for the well being of widows in your families. Be concerned. Find out what is happening. Prevent some rottenness from taking place. Some orphans could not be in a state they are in if a Christian family fought for what belongs to them. Do not leave matters in the hands of cruel unbelieving relatives bent only on selfish gain. Fight for them even if others will end up hating you (1 Tim 5: 4,8,10,16; Deut. 14: 28-29; Deut. 15:7,8).

Above all, join communities and societies that are fighting for these good causes.  Those family members that are in advocacy should be supported. Iinfluence other families in our neighbourhood to think rightly on matters affecting the vulnerable.

THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH

The Church should regularly instruct its members on these matters.  Sermons, special study groups and other educational means should be employed (Act. 28:18-20; 2 Tim 3: 16-17). The Church can and should, resources permitting start schools, hospitals, hospices, orphanages, and colleges etc. Through these institutions many social concerns may be addressed both directly and indirectly. These were part of the institutions that our forefathers established – but have since been largely abandoned by us.  Some of these tasks need concerted efforts.  Are we in the business of building individual empires? If not, why do we fail to do a thing together? Who are we helping together? What can we point to as the fruit of our united effort: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…” goes the Master’s prayer (Jn. 17: 20-21). We believe in unity in diversity, that’s good, but where are the visible signs of unity.  ‘Like minded brethren,’ we claim but nature tells us that birds of the same feather flock together. We need to put our mind and resources together for the glory of our Father in heaven.

Local churches as individuals should visit the sick and prisoners. They should clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Let them do according to their capacity. What we should not allow is to do nothing. The Church should provide coordinated support for individuals and families to voluntarily work in unison with others to provide social help. Let special ministries be born in response to the pains and sufferings of society.

THE ROLE OF THE PASTOR

Pastors are role models. We can safely say  “Like pastor, like congregation.” What the church stands for should be seen in the personal conduct and through the involvement of the pastor in society. To begin with, every pastor has a duty to teach all things that Jesus commanded – including social concerns. Sad that even those that have undergone ministerial training have not been adequately equipped to articulate a biblical view on social concerns. Our teaching is inadequate in both content and methodology. That is why even in response to HIV/AIDS, we have largely been reactionary. When other people pick a wrong method, that is when we speak, but the damage has already been done. We do not originate and initiate. It is our challenge as pastors to initiate a biblical response to troubles and sorrows of society.

Pastors are a people to be mostly pitied. They are preachers and teachers, counsellors, managers, directors, theologians, administrators, Public Relations Officers, Social Coordinators, Ceremonial Officials, Buyers, peace makers, visitors to members homes, bankers, the list is endless. Where do they find time to be models? The church expects both the life and blood of its Pastor.  Prayer and the ministry of the word is the pastors’ priority (Acts 6:4). The goal is to prepare saints for work of service (Eph 4:12). We need to re-examine our expectations, structures and models of pastoral ministry in light of scripture so that pastors may fulfil God’s will and do what they are really called to do. Pastors should preach the whole Bible; evangelism, discipleship, political issues, social issues, cultural issues etc. They should also be found with dirty hands – labouring for Christ.

CLOSING REMARKS

Pastors should preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2: 2) but should not exclude from the pulpit duties of social concerns. Preach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20: 27). Care for souls but remember that souls are in the flesh. Do all to God’s glory (1 Cor. 10: 31). Faith is not only about mental or emotional comfort – It covers people’s moral improvements and usefulness in society. Being useful means paying attention to social concerns. The Bible is concerned about the salvation of souls. It is also concerned about social concerns, family issues, economic issues, civil issues, legislation, education, environmental issues etc.

We are not advocating a social gospel but the whole counsel of God, not just one dimension. The gospel must affect life. Let the individual, the family, the Church/Churches, the pastor know that the nature of God should manifest in us; this includes mercy and compassion. God defends the fatherless, the widows, the poor, the oppressed and the aliens. What it means, is that to know God IS TO DO WHAT God does (Deut. 10: 18, Ps. 146: 9, Ps. 68: 5, Ps. 35: 10, Zec. 7:10, Jer. 22: 16).

BIBIOGRAPHY

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