A friend recently described for me her church's confirmation class' goal of "ending hunger in our town by the time we graduate."
How excellent it is to see the church's young people focused out on the world and hoping to bring a congregation along with them. Theirs is a goal that exudes youthful exuberance and confidence that "we can do anything we put our minds to." We need that kind of faithful response, trusting that with God all things are possible. Even if it sounds like "pie-in-the-sky" to someone who has lived long enough to see the truth in Jesus' statement that the poor will always be with us -- sometimes in spite of my (our) best efforts and sometimes because of my (our) indifference.
Even if hunger can't be ended in their town in a handful of years (and I pray that it can be, everywhere), their goal suggests some deeper objectives that can shape their lives for years to come:
- being aware of what they are blessed with, and what others lack
- creating a way of life that includes sharing with those in need
- getting to know those who are hungry and in poverty
- raising awareness among their complacent neighbors of the needs of the poor
- learning about and advocating against the causes of as well as the results of hunger
I hope that these young people name these as goals, too, and not just as tasks and strategies to be ticked off along the way.
We're a culture that loves to set impossibly high goals and then give ourselves excuses for not meeting them. (Made your New Years' resolutions yet?) Would it surprise you to know that Google searches for the word "gym" peak sharply each December and then quickly trail off into January? And how often do people say "I don't have the resources to really make a difference about hunger," so they do...nothing.
And we in the church are not immune. Don't we set practical goals like increasing giving by 5 percent, or welcoming 20 new members, or adding seating for 200 at worship? Or we resolve to become spiritually deeper (which means..?) or to read the Bible in a year. Or (let's be honest here) just to stay open a while longer and try to keep things the same in a changing world?
With the exception of that last sentence, there's nothing wrong with such goals. But I fear we often get it backwards, using our relationship with God, our prayer, our faith as mileposts on the way to those goals, rather than the eternal journey and destination. Jesus doesn't call us to be faithful as a tactic in order to enact social change. He calls us to perceive and live a new reality...which will change the world.
Ending hunger. Filling the pews. Knowing the Bible. These are all good tactics to keep us motivated as we pursue the lifelong task of personal and social transformation. The goal of our faith remains threefold: to know Emmanuel, the God who is with us and loves us wildly; to perceive the radically upside-down kingdom that is God's dream for us; and then living as if that dream is already true (which is the only way the kingdom actually arrives).
When we do these things, the Holy Spirit can take it from there.