After a busy day late in December when we popped in on a Wednesday night to visit the University church of Christ in Tampa, Florida. As we skimmed their picture board hoping to have one of those “It’s a small world after all” moments, it happened. “Hey! I know them!” We had forgotten that of the dozens of congregations in the area, some friends from the Northwest we’d spent some wonderful Thanksgivings with, Ross and Maddie Turner, both worshipped with this congregation while they attended Florida College and we had JUST kayaked with them among the many manatees in Fort Myers, and on the way back loudly sang Christmas songs with our own altered lyrics to match the manatee experience. We were glad to see their smiling faces on a board filled with this thriving family of God.
The congregation had an energetic vibe and the Bible class at the University church of Christ was well attended. We enjoyed a good class on Daniel chapters 4 and 5, where a comment in class really lingered within me. The comment was with regard to something specific within Daniel’s plea to King Nebuchadnezzar to repent. In fact, it indicated what the King’s repentance was to look like: Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity (Daniel 4:27) Showing mercy to the poor is certainly one “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8) that every Christian is to be practice throughout life. The little that I know about this congregation, I do know this congregation has done a good job of doing that very thing. They don’t just talk about helping the poor, but has led by example in their “going the extra mile” to serve the spiritually and sometimes physically needy in sending their elder Steve Patton to such places as Ethiopia and the Seychelles Islands to share the love of Jesus.
If you are reading this blog and you know little about the church of Christ, it might interest you to know that we help the poor in a way that is not as common. But this way we help the poor, we believe to be the most efficient, because it is the most Biblical. I guess you could say the way we help the poor is more often about “rolling up our own sleeves” than it is paying someone else to roll up theirs. Here’s what I mean: You’ll see more families adopting children, or even entire sibling groups, or gift an adoptive family some funds to help them adopt, more often than you will see them pay an institution, such as an orphanage to house them.
We don’t use a modern American business model as a pattern for helping the needy, but as outlined in the New Testament, we see ourselves more like a family with a mission to take care of one another (especially) as well as those souls outside the church in all kinds of ways: spiritually, emotionally and if need be, physically and financially.
Also, since the New Testament church did not spend money on schools, gyms and such, neither do we. We still thoughtfully educate our children or have a good time together (like kayaking with the manatees), but we do things like that on our own dime, so that we actually have more funds for helping the spiritually and physically needy. So, for example, instead of creating another institution where children study math, English, science and history, we instead send funds to preachers around the world so that they can teach their communities what God says about preparing for eternity and staying in relationship with Him (and in the process prevent and solve, by the way, virtually every social problem a community can have through virtuous Christian living).
With reference to helping the poor, the divine pattern in the New Testament that obtains God’s favor is this: one congregation directly sending another congregation financial relief. than we see the more secular, money wasting model of paid staff outside of the preacher and occasionally, elders.
In the New Testament, we don’t see groups of churches creating bigger organizations to do their work, we just see Christians taking care of Christians. Individual members of the church of Christ can often be seen volunteering in all kinds of volunteer work within organizations that already exist within the world. We fight sex trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, abortion, and any other social problem you could name --- with our own personal volunteer time and funds within outside organizations, without taking a single dollar out of the money collected by the church that could be spent changing someone’s eternity through the gospel being preached or to feed a brother or sister-in-Christ that is hungry. Certainly the funds within a church treasury is not the only good that Christians can accomplish with their monetary blessings in this life.
There is a feeling of vulnerability when we go face to face and eye to eye with the poor. The hands-on approach of men like Steve Patton takes prayer and courage. Let’s be inspired! Let’s figure out today all the practicalities of just how we each are going to be more sacrificial in time and money in order to love better those God’s providence puts in our path.
University church of Christ
14314 Bruce B. Downs Blvd
Tampa, FL, 33613