Would you be confident to ask this question to your friends or family that don’t profess any kind of faith? If you would hesitate — you have good reason to. According to the most recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) report, six in ten people can’t think of a reason why religion is good for society.
It’s disheartening to hear. You’re probably thinking of all the good things your church does, benefitting not only your life but the wider community. It’s not a fair assessment! This may be true, but societal attitudes have been marred by the not-so-good things that the Church is known for.
The NCLS report also revealed something that seems contradictory at first glance: six in ten think the most important role for churches in society is to serve the poor. Australia has lost confidence in religion as a vessel for good – yes. However, there is recognition that benevolence is the language of the Church.
This insight is directly from the vision of the Church from its earliest days, as found in James 2:16-17:
“If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
This is a crucial moment. Jesus commissioned the Church to continue what he started: to serve the poor, to save the lost and to point people to his Good News. His good news is needed in a world full of chaos, uncertainty and division, hurting from the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19. The economic fallout is predicted to be large and ongoing, being felt by our communities for a long time.
The Church is the people of God, bringing His kingdom here on Earth until it comes in fullness. But how does this translate to someone searching for employment alongside nearly 4 million others after the government stimulus and rental freezes cease? What about those unable to afford groceries or are facing eviction?
The answer is in the way the people of God are instructed to live. James 2 instructs the people of God to provide for the needs of their brothers and sisters. We’re instructed not just to wish them well and offer up a Psalm, but to say “we’re with you” in the hardship, loneliness and anxiety.
When you’re with someone, you’re attentive to their needs. If it’s only metaphorical, the sentiment becomes meaningless. That’s why Christians Against Poverty (CAP) exists.
CAP is here to equip a movement of churches to carry out the mission to serve and include the poor in their communities and do so while confidently proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
Local churches know their communities best, hence why equipping is the nature of partnership with CAP. CAP resources, equips, and trains churches to do what Jesus called all of us to do, in the context of need in modern Australia. Through CAP Debt Centres, churches are stepping into the homes of some of the poorest and at-risk, offering them a practical solution, and sharing the love of Jesus.
Churches have a unique opportunity to regain public faith by taking action to help people crippled by debt post-pandemic. CAP clients Mark and Sarah found themselves in a desperate financial situation when the pandemic hit, and their local church was able to stand with them through the storm they faced.
Almost immediately after social distancing was put in place, Sarah’s bookings as a professional photographer dried up. Mark’s hours at his retail position in menswear were at first dramatically reduced, then stopped altogether. Both unemployed, they were getting calls each day by creditors demanding repayments from debt incurred to pay for medical bills when their first child was born with a congenital condition.
It was tough, but straight away they were able to call their CAP caseworker and together work out a solution that would keep them afloat.
“We feel like there's so much uncertainty and there’s definite anxiety there. But I just can imagine it being so much worse.”
Sarah and Mark have the confidence to face this uncertain time because they have an advocate in CAP, someone who is with them, able to relieve the pressure and give them space to breathe.
“We’re looking forward to things at the moment, which sounds ridiculous in the midst of a pandemic.”
Taking this opportunity to redeem the perception of the Church is not about ourselves. It’s about bringing transformation into people’s lives and bringing glory to God in the process. There are many reasons one could make a case for why Christianity has been good for society. But historical analysis aside, it’s quite simple.
Keeping our focus on Jesus’ mandate and example to truly care for the poor will inevitably shine the light of God into our communities and into the world. Recognition of this work will likely come and go, but transformed lives are forever.