The environment’s place in church

There’s a shift happening in culture. And churches that care about relevance and connection should watch, understand, and participate with the same gusto with which they seek out new music trends or useful sermon topics.

Every day, more people are becoming concerned about the environment and how our consumption affects it. On one end, many people were already there. But it was always more of a “niche” concern. Now, ask almost any college student or recent graduate, and they’ll show some level of concern. They’re altering eating habits, curbing consumption, and reusing what they can.

It may be happening only in certain areas of the U.S., but it’s beginning to happen everywhere. Seth Godin’s recent post gives an example:

“I was at the Union Square Market last week, buying some local eggs. A well-dressed woman marched up and handed two empty cardboard egg trays to the farmer, for reusing (a step better than recycling).

Suddenly, $40 an ounce for raspberries flown in from Chile isn’t so sexy any more.

Now, people look at someone driving a Chevy Suburban the same way they look at a fit person parking in a handicapped space. “Why,” they wonder, “do you need to do that?” It’s sort of a mix of suspicion and pity.”

But many evangelical churches see causes like the environment as distractions from the main thing. We’re called to share Jesus’ love. Focusing on trees and air quality misses the point!

Tim Stevens at Granger Community Church recently posted similar thoughts on his blog:

My eye stopped on the article called: “Indy Church Focuses on Global Warming as Vision to Make Difference.” Now, I have nothing against helping save the environment. That’s all good. But it angered me to realize our conference is raising this church up as a great example, a church to follow. …

I have a thought. How about if they make a goal to introduce someone to Christ this month? What if they educate their people on sharing their faith so they can reverse their decline? What if they set a goal of seeing marriages restored? How about helping their people become followers of Christ in a way that would impact their community? Maybe the objective for 2007 could be “Make Disciples.”

Again, I have nothing against fighting global warming. Or saving whales. Or rescuing lonely butterflies. But let’s keep first things first and keep the mission of the church crystal clear.

I understand! Some people have looked so closely at external issues, they seem to have forgotten Jesus all together. Many churches have reacted against this, focusing solely on proclamation of the word. But social issues are important for the evangelical church for two real reasons.

How we care for this world matters.
We should care for creation. God made it, and we should value it. I don’t think we all need to be vegetarians (I know others feel differently), but we should care for what God left us. We should use it wisely.

How we care for this world matters in the eyes of the world!
While many churches talk about quality and excellence, they turn a blind eye to an area of stewardship many churched, unchurched, and dechurched people care deeply about. By recognizing that how we treat our neighbor and the environment matters, the church could do a lot to break down the same type of stereotypes that the “relevant worship” movement broke down 10 years ago. Then, people assumed the church was irrelevant and out of touch with culture. By updating our worship and preaching styles to fit with a contemporary context, some people’s expectations were shattered and they saw God’s message from a new, life-changing perspective.

Now, it’s time for the church to realize that talking sympathetically about the care of our world and taking small steps to “live lightly” can make the same difference. How many churches actually recycle? If you’re in a building, can it be more energy efficient? What can we do to have a positive effect on the environment as a part of our mission to have a positive impact on the community as a whole?

Something like environmental stewardship should never be THE message, but it should be a part of our pursuit to honor Christ in our communities and the world.

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The environment’s place in church

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