Images of Evangelical Community Engagement
As someone from an evangelical perspective who has been involved in social engagement for years now... actually, probably the whole of my adult life, I am amazed that Christians and churches still need to be sold on the whole idea. I am also aghast at the fact that so many of my evangelical colleagues are only prepared to dabble in such activities if there is a clear pay-off in "souls saved." My own experience tells me that people in the wider world are not daft. If they think that we are trying to help them with their material needs only to have them come to church, or ultimately come to Christ, they will either run a mile, or shamelessly use us in the same way we have shamelessly used what they see as their most important needs as a means to hook them.
Rather, I argue, that whilst we should be open about why we engage in such activities (that we believe that God wants us to help people because he loves them) we must engage in the work with no hidden agenda, but simply because it is worthwhile in its own right.
Historically the "hidden agenda" approach has produced the so-called "rice Christians" of eastern mission work, or the "soup Protestants" of Irish famine relief... Both of which bring shame on the idea of a God of grace... I have previously referred to such initiatives as "Trojan horse" evangelism... Smuggle evangelism into an unsuspecting community in the form of a social programme.
But as of last week at the LINC consultation on work in loyalist communities, I have found an even more evocative phrase, thanks to Phillip Orr and his work on outreach in such communities, where he describes those who look on social engagement as "evangelistic foreplay..." All very nice, but not the main event...