Blog - Embodying Truth
Is the Church Overloading Our "Special Forces"?Friday, May 20, 2011
The raid of Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway—and his death—grabbed and held lenses and microphones for days. To my surprise, the work of the U.S. Navy Seals suggested an analogy relating to the church and workplace ministry.
This connective "click” in my mind between "special forces” and the church came in a roundabout way. I recently spent ten days in China with a group of Christian graduate students. While there, we learned of what the Chinese call "mingong,” or migrant workers. These rural people have migrated to the big cities hoping to find better paying work.
Migrant workers make up most of China’s poor. They are often exploited through overwork (some put in 12-16 hours a day, with perhaps one day off a month). They are underpaid; some have gone months without pay. Their work subjects them to industrial diseases and occupational injuries, usually without compensation. Living conditions? I read of one situation that provided less space per person than the area of a regular sheet of plywood.
These "mingong” may number 230 million (roughly three-quarters of the population of the United States.) In Scripture, God asks his people to "be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (Deut. 15:11). And as opportunity allows, we are to "do good to everyone,” (Gal. 6:10). The immensity of the task of responding to the needs of 230 million people overwhelmed my imagination.
That’s when I saw the connection between the "special forces” and the church. According to the website, army-technology.com, "Special forces are highly trained and organized elite groups of soldiers.” They take on battle tasks that demand more than regular military units are trained and conditioned for. But those regular troops, properly prepared, carry out by far the larger part of the overall battle strategy. Historically, the church has relied heavily on its special forces (pastors, missionaries, evangelists, relief agencies, non-governmental organizations, and so on) to do its work.
The church in China can never muster enough special forces to respond to the needs of 230 million poor people. Think of the costs of training and salaries. Special forces can’t begin to scratch the surface of the "mingong” need. But the Chinese church at large now numbers an estimated 130 million believers. Even half serving in workplaces would mean 65 million already deployed throughout China. What if their leaders were to communicate to them the vision of "doing good” to the migrant workers among them? What if each working believer were equipped to use the opportunities provided by his or her work to show the love of God to these needy people?
Then this connection hit home. We Western Christians have relied heavily on our special forces, our highly trained individuals and groups. They work hard. We need them. Some tasks demand the kind of preparation only they can bring. But the work of God’s Kingdom in our society, as in China, is far bigger than our special forces can handle. For that, we need to activate the whole body of Christ. Have we become overdependent on our special forces?
Some estimates say Christians in the U.S. number 100 million. If half of us scatter into the work world week after week, that deploys 50 million believers into the heart of our society. What if our Christian leaders (our special forces) were to go all out to "prepare God’s people for works of service” (Eph. 4:12) in that work world?