The church: A healing station or faithfully complacent?

By John W. Fountain

A sign in impoverished Ford Heights, Illinois, just south of Chicago, advertises liquor and lottery among other things. Signs like these often dot the landscape in poor black urban communities where John Fountain says the church must play a greater role in helping to heal these neighborhoods.

What if, instead of praying with “blessed” olive oil, preachers began to encourage church members to cook with it or to substitute it and red wine vinegar for salad dressings high in fat and calories?

What if, when the preacher called for the church to sow a seed, instead of money people brought forth actual seeds for tomatoes, greens, peppers, squash and a variety of vegetables to plant in a community garden?

What, if instead of inviting yet another celebrity speaker to give a “word,” the church invited representatives from the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Diabetes Association, the American Medical Association or the local county health department to educate our people on how to curtail the preventable sickness and disease that consume us?

“What if the church abandoned its posh pulpits and cushy pews and sought to engage those who feel alienated from the corporatized institutions it has now become?”

What if, instead of “stacking paper” for yet another church building fund, the church instead built community centers that served as health and wellness centers, where people could exercise and socialize in safety, and prosper even as their souls prosper?

What if, instead of collectively each year spending millions of dollars on traveling to church conventions, the church instead encouraged members to stay home for even just two years and invest that money in local communities?

What if the church abandoned its posh pulpits and cushy pews and sought to engage those who feel alienated from the corporatized institutions it has now become? What if?

A few years ago, I suggested to a wise old pastor my idea of writing to urge people to hit the streets rather than going to church one Sunday and use the money they would normally have given to try and make some difference.

“Most churches couldn’t afford to do it,” he answered with a chuckle. “They’d have to shut down.”

Maybe they can’t afford to. Or maybe they — we — can’t afford not to.

Especially in a world where politicians, police and government programs so clearly fail to mend hearts and minds, heal communities, or transform lives. A world where, in my eyes, a man’s so-called religion pales in comparison to his personal relationship with his Creator and his fellow man, and where there is no greater act of worship than one’s selfless sacrifice for the good of others.

It is a world where the church is too often missing in action and failing to fulfill its mission. Some churches do. But sadly, so many don’t.

So what if one Sunday we veered from the routine, religion and ritual of church? And what if it helped sparked a revolution — a wind of revival that brings life to the dry, dead bones that in my mind sometimes seems to best characterize today’s church?

What if the church suddenly veered from its path of materialism, separatism and elitism that led Dr. Martin Luther King many years ago to prophesy that it was in danger of becoming an “irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority”?

What if we imagine ministry reimagined?

Imagine if we don’t.



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