Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"Just" good

Over the years we've been asked often about "how we do ministry" here at CitySquare.  Most of the time those who've asked this question have wondered how or if we "share the gospel" in our work or if we've done so as a condition of our willingness to help those who come to us seeking assistance.  We've attempted to be clear and kind in our answers.  The fact is, we discover deep, resilient faith in the hearts and lives of some of the poorest people in Dallas.  In other words, most of the time we receive more theological insight from "the poor" than we offer back. 

We do our work because of our faith.  The values of our faith provide us motive.  On a day-to-day basis, we operate like St. Francis, who, it is claimed, once said, "Preach the gospel at all times.  Use words only when necessary." 

In this light, I love what follows.

From Tony Campolo's blog, Red Letter Christians:

Good for Goodness Sake. . .Not Conversions

by Tony Campolo Thursday, April 28th, 2011

We should do good for goodness sake, not to achieve some other goal. A good act is good in and of itself. There are some people who believe that the only reason we should do good to others like providing the poor and oppressed with food and medicine, etc., is in order that we might win them to Jesus.

In other words, the good is simply a hook that we use to catch them and drag them in. I believe that when good is done with such motives, the good loses its spiritual dimension. Good is not good because of a pressured conversion or awkward Gospel message. Good is good for its own sake.

Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you do good (i.e., alms), make sure that you do it in secret. Make sure that your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.” When you read that in the Sermon on the Mount, you have to ask yourself, “How can I reconcile those red letters in the Bible with doing good with an ulterior motive such as getting people to be willing to listen to my rip on the Gospel which should be done in secret?”

I told a youth group once that when they delivered their Christmas baskets, they should knock on the door, wait for the people to answer, present them with the food, and then sing some Christmas carols. I asked these young people, “Do you really feel that the recipient is going to fall over, converted to Christ because of your generosity? In all likelihood, they will feel embarrassed that they are in an impoverished state and have to depend on the gifts you are giving.” When these young people asked me what should be done, my response was simple. Sneak the presents and food onto the back porch and go away, call the people on the telephone and say, “There’s stuff on your back steps. Go and get that stuff. It’s for you. This is God!” Then hang up.

The Bible says that the God who sees what you do in secret will reward you openly. It couldn’t be clearer from the Sermon on the Mount that the good that we do should never be for manipulating people into believing our doctrines.


Anice said...

All I can say is "Amen"!!

Anonymous said...


When it comes to 'giving alms' hidden agendas or open proselytizing just make doing good awkward for both giver and recipient, and the unequal position of the parties makes any meaningful interaction or lasting response highly unlikely. And for all that, as Campolo suggests, it ignores the injunction not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.


rcorum said...

I have an honest question or two. When is an evangelistic outreach appropriate? Jesus did give what we often call the Great Commission, and Paul said in 1Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I really do see your point that good should be done for the sake of doing good, but can the message of the Gospel be spoken to people without making people feel imposed upon? At some point could our silence deprive a person of the chance to hear about Jesus?

Terri said...

I definitely see what you are saying, but I know someone who, while she had been treated nicely by Christians, HONESTLY THOUGHT that she was not invited to their church and couldn't go b/c no one had ever invited her.

People who have never been to church don't know that they are always invited to a church.

Kind of like, a well I don't know, lets say a bunco group. If members of the bunco group had been nice to you, would you think you were invited? No, probably not, You would wait until you had a verbal invitation to join.

Also it sounds like you are grouping all of the people that you help into one category. Remember each person is different, has a different history and has had different experiences.

While, yes, there are definitely faithful Christians who will come needing help there will also be those that have never truly heard about Jesus (yes it does happen in the US) or have only heard negative things about Christ, or are simply confused.

Just because there are several that have resilient faith, doesn't mean you should not at least try to share the gospel.... you never know what kind of a difference you are making...... even if it is just 1 in 100 of your clients who has never heard about Christ, it is worth it.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe that doing good for goodness sake is anything other than secular charity. Doing good in the name of Christ and with Christian instruction is and should be the way of charitable work. The good for goodness sake is a cope-out for those charities that are sucking on the government tit.
The Great Commission given by Christ is clear.

Terri said...

I do want to add that (as you know) I think sharing the story of Christ can be done appropriately without "attacking" someone.

I think having a fliers in the waiting room, that say if you're ever interested in a Bible study or want to learn more about Jesus we would love to teach you, with a phone number to call............ would be sufficient.

Anonymous said...

I definitely believe that you should do good for goodness sake, but at the same time, if no one had never taught my close friend about Christ (through an outreach charity type program) she probably would not be a Christian

I think the "left hand right hand" example is referring to other Christian

I don't think Christianity should be about doing things in secret and keeping things secretive, in fact, I think the more secretive Christians act, the less likely people are willing to want to learn more about Christ

Larry James said...

Some of these comments make it clear to me that there is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of inner city communities and their residents with whom we work so closely on a daily basis.

Two key points come to mind: 1) Everyone in the community knows that CitySquare is a faith-based organization; they regard us as a "church group" rooted in faith. 2) The vast, vast majority of our neighbors who come our way are people of deep, deep faith. The conversations and insights about faith, Jesus and spiritual life emerge from almost every conversation we have with our neighbors and the interaction is authentic and natural.

It amazes me to realize that most folks feel that faith is not shared unless there is a formal declaration or organization for that process. When people come to us hungry, they usually speak of their dependence on God, we do our best to assist them in figuring out a plan to do better economically and we affirm their faith. We often pray with our neighbors. The process is seamless, natural and expected. No one is keeping track of "conversions" like marks on a chart. We are simply attempting to live our our faith with and before all who come our way.

BTW--our approach has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT WE RECEIVE PUBLIC FUNDS. Those funds don't impose restrictions on us about how our faith informs and shapes our work. To the contrary, there is an appreciation of that influence and shaping. Since we don't make our help conditional or limited only to neighbors who go through some indocrination course, the public agencies/funders are very pleased to work with us, especially since we are so close to the ground.

While I appreciate the comments, the reality here is quite different than what some imagine.

Anonymous said...


I don't think Campolo would find doing good in the name of Christ at all objectionable. What he's advocating is simply not having an ulterior motive (including conversion) for doing good beyond the fact that it is good. It is important to disconnect good works and evangelism to a degree to have trust and respect in a relationship. After there is a relationship, personal, real evangelism might follow. But you have to accept that it might not. And that's okay, the good was still worth doing simply because it was good.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean CitySquare is faith based? What faith? Liberation Theology!
You don't conduct organized services for those needing your services. You do however provide physical relief, and that makes you a secular charity in my book.
You have stated more than once that your concern is for the here and now and not the hereafter!

Anonymous said...

". . .thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven." The Lord's Prayer

It seems Larry and crew are in pretty good company. And they do provide spiritual guidance, counsel and study for those who seek it. Weekly opportunities in the organization and the church that they underwrite.

Anonymous said...

There is no organized Church Service at CitySquare. My inquires in the past have been responded to with -"there's a church down the street for them to go to" ,and my favorite - "we are organizing a Bible study". There is no organized service at CitySquare because it is not faith based in the ordinary sense of the definition - even the phrase "faith based" is a red herring

Larry James said...

Anon 5:20, sorry to disappoint, but Central Dallas Church was planted by City Square in 1992. We pay for the church's property and staff. I will teach "The Theology of City Square" in May, June, July...just one example of numerous faith/Bible based instructional settings/offerings. I'm sure you wouldn't like our values, but they are clearly faith-based. We read the bible very seriously.

Anonymous said...

Larry, so in response to my question, does CitySquare hold organized church services; do you just say there's a church down the street, as apparently from your last response , there is no organized "faith based service" at CitySquare?

Anonymous said...

Larry, so you don't hold any organized service at CitySquare, but point these poor souls to some place down the road?

Larry James said...

One more time: we have several organized, regularly scheduled bible studies and groups in CityWalk. We have a church that meets on Sun and several times each week. We inform everyone about each of these options. We do much more outreach than 90% of Dallas churches. We just don't condition our aid on a person's response to our invitations.