Editor’s Note: Our Board and staff at Key Ministry have recently completed a planning process to discern how we as an organization may best steward our time, talent and resources in the coming years. We recognize that three elements form the basis of our ministry…our unique giftedness, the needs and opportunities for impactful ministry in our current environment, and Kingdom theology. Today, Hu Auburn, pastor and Interim Executive Director of Key Ministry, describes what we mean when we talk about Kingdom theology.
Is this a curiosity or a driving force? Is this a subject of intellectual interest to be debated in seminary classrooms, or is it a daily determining factor in the decisions and choices that we make?
Kingdom Theology has to do with why we do the things we do. Whether we consider this something that is simply interesting or something that is crucial all depends on how we view the importance of our motives and intentions. Thus, I would like to begin by thinking with you about matters of motivation, and then think more about how Kingdom Theology shapes those motives.
All of us hope that much of the time we will do the right thing. We also hope that much of the time others will do the right thing. Otherwise we would be living in the midst of uncertainty and chaos.
I suspect that most of us would say, “Actions are more important than motives. The important thing –ultimately – is that someone does the right thing, regardless of the motivation behind he act. While it would be nice if we all had pure motives, what we wind up doing is more important than why we do it.”
I certainly understand such thinking. However, as a pastor, I have spent my life work trying to help people understand that why they do things is not as important as what they do. Instead, it is ultimately far more important than what they do.
I understand why people would be focused on “the bottom line” – the things we decide to do. After all if we waited until our motives were pure, we would never get anything done! Yet, such “bottom line” thinking is also short-sighted. In exchange for short-term outcomes, we may sacrifice long-term transformation.
For instance, consider a prosperous, “successful” middle class person living in the suburbs, who not only contributes financially but also volunteers their time, serving lunch in a soup kitchen. Certainly most of us would say that he or she is doing “the right thing.”
But, why are they doing this? There could be a wide variety of motivations.
They could be serving because –
- they feel bad that they have so much and others have so little.
- they are fulfilling a court order for “community service.”
- they need a tax deduction for charitable contributions.
- they had once been homeless themselves, through other’s help turned around their life, and now want to give back to others.
- they had heard a sermon about Jesus’ concern for the “outcast” and feel that, as a Christian, they are obligated to get involved.
- they want the homeless to be cared for in the inner city, so they don’t wander out into the suburbs looking for handouts.
- it is an expectation of their employer.
- they feel guilty when they think of the poor and homeless.
- they want to feel good and serving others makes them feel good.
- they can impress others with their compassion.
- a friend talked them into it and they don’t want to disappoint their friend.
In all likelihood their service in the soup kitchen is the result of a combination of the motivations above – and possibly a number of others. What difference does it make – as long as they do the right thing? In the moment it makes little difference. Praise God for those who are willing to do the right thing – whatever their reasons. However, there are two places where the motivation makes a HUGE difference.
First, why we do what we do makes a huge difference in our ability to sustain those actions, those services, and those commitments.
If we are serving in a soup kitchen out of guilt, that guilt is likely to wear off rather quickly. If we are serving so that we feel good, it won’t be long until some of those being served are not as grateful as we think they should be. If we are serving because of a court order or an employer expectation, how likely are we to continue when the circumstances change? If we are giving for a tax deduction, will we give if the law changes? If we are serving to impress others, it will not be long until we need to find something else to keep impressing them.
There are countless examples of people – and churches – being called to a certain ministry – taking it on with great enthusiasm – and not being able to sustain the commitment to really be used by God to make a difference.
Second, why we do what we do can dramatically impact how we view ourselves and how we view others who are a part of those actions, services, or contributions.
When serving the poor, it is very easy (without intending it) to view those served as less than us. We who have, are giving to those who don’t have. Very subltely we put (or keep) ourselves in a position of power. It is very, very easy to reinforce an inferior/superior relationship. The result is that in providing much needed and valuable aid or relief, we are reinforcing a culture that encourages dependency and often perpetuates those things that have caused the needs.
When our church began housing homeless families over night (for a week four times a year) as a part of Interfaith Hospitality Network, we were faced with a decision: Do we designate our best rooms (which are naturally used all the time) or our least attractive rooms (that would be much easier to set aside for this use). Are these families the objects of our compassion and care (thus being “less than us” and whatever we have would be better than nothing) or are they our valued guests, that we have the privilege to host? That is a “Kingdom” decision!
Kingdom Theology provides a dramatically different kind of motivation for our actions. It is also multi-layered. Here are some of the motivations –
- When we as Christians offer ourselves in service to others – we are in essence offering ourselves in service of Christ Himself. (See Matthew 25, “If you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”)
- All of the people that God has fashioned are both “gifted” and “disabled.” All of us have shortcomings, and all of us have ways to bless. In the eyes of God we are all beautiful. None are inferior or superior.
- All of the people that God is calling to Himself in the church are important for the health, strength, and vitality of the faith community. Our life together is diminished if we exclude those the world labels as “disabled.”
- Serving for the purpose of receiving accolades or recognition has its rewards now; serving for the sake of honoring Christ and building His Kingdom has eternal significance.
- Serving others, because we are following the example of Christ, results in the construction of Christ’s Kingdom and brings us ever closer to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the return of Christ.
Among well-meaning and well-intentioned Christians there are several motivations that seem to be a part of launching disability ministries.
The first is compassion. Jesus calls us to reach out to “the least of these.” In our culture today, the disabled are often considered “the least of these” – those who aren’t able to be as productive, as connected, as “successful” as the rest of us. Perhaps the disabled children, youth and adults of today are similar to the “widows and orphans” of the Bible. Compassion is certainly a godly trait, but here it usually only results in limited short-term outcomes.
The second common motivation is justice. The disabled as a community have often been discriminated against, misunderstood and judged, even ridiculed and systems/attitudes have been constructed that uphold those systems. As Christians we are to battle and destroy – in ourselves and in society those systems and powers that oppress and discriminate. Perhaps the community of those with various disabilities today are the lepers or the Samaritans of the Scriptures. Once again, a passion for justice is a godly trait, but one that in disability ministry is hard to sustain.
It is rarely easy to do the right thing – regardless of our motivation. Yet, we at Key Ministry have found that a commitment to Kingdom Theology provides the best foundation and motivation to conduct a disability ministry that is effective and redemptive for all who are a part of it. It is an investment in a ministry that builds up the body of Christ, not one that drains its resources. It is a work that has both short term successes, and also eternal payoff.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” declared Jesus, “and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Key Ministry is committed to “Kingdom Building” – not ours, but Christ’s. We are convinced that that focus will allow everything to find its proper place and purpose.
May we each seek to both do the right thing – and do it for the best possible reason!
Hu Auburn attended Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1971. In August of 1975, he became the Senior Pastor of Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio, where he served until his retirement in 2008. Hu was formally appointed to the position of Pastor Emeritus at Bay Presbyterian in 2009.
Under his leadership, Bay Presbyterian began the Bay Food Ministry, Bay Presbyterian Church Nursery School, Bethel Bible Series, the Stephen Ministry, an Evangelistic Calling program (“Good News” Teams), a Healing ministry, a Christian Counseling program, Sacred Music Series, a Special Needs Ministry, Kids’ Church ® (an urban children’s church-planting ministry), the Genesis Church Partnership between one of our choirs and six urban congregations, and global partnerships in Guatemala, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and Nigeria.
Hu was a founding Board member of Key Ministry, and has served the ministry as Interim Executive Director since January, 2013. His new book, Grandkids Camp is available here.