On March 12 and 13 of this year, First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida had Bruce Wilkinson come in and speak, and he challenged the church to respond to the “new homelessness” afflicting Central Florida due to the economic downturn, rising foreclosure rate, job loss, etc.
And the church, which has a history of responding in big ways to disaster appeals, responded in a big way to Wilkinson’s challenge, giving and pledging a total of $5.6 million.
Wilkinson, in his messages, laid out the dire need of the people of Central Florida and urged the congregation to contribute whatever they could. The results were individual contributions ranging from one dollar to thousands of dollars and one as a high as $1 million.
“We’ve got to help Orlando and let them know there is help,” Uth said. “We have to say to them, ‘God placed us here for you.’ This church started in 1871 and we believe God started this church here for a reason. I believe He knew this day was coming and He positioned us so we could make a difference.”
Where will the money go?
First Baptist Orlando has had a long partnership with numerous Central Florida Christian organizations, just about all of which will receive funds from the weekend offering.
“These ministries are equipped to help with the issue of homelessness,” de Armas said. “Some of those organizations include the Coalition for the Homeless, Orlando Rescue Mission and Christian Service Center. All of them are really trying to help people who are facing the problems the 60 Minutes story highlighted.”
And it’s the first line of that previous paragraph that has me wondering: Is there a downside to a spontaneous one weekend $5.6 million church offering for the homeless?
Agencies are “equipped to help with the issue of homelessness.” But what about the church members themselves? Are they equipped?
Besides distributing the money to those who can best get it to those in need, de Armas [the church’s senior associate pastor] also wants to see members of the congregation getting involved.
“We’re looking to deploy our people,” he said. “We have an army of them who want to serve and we’re going to give them a way to do it.”
Good, good. But rather than deploying our people, what about calling upon our people to deploy their homes, and training them to do so even before we ask for their financial commitment?
After all, Christ in Matthew 25:31-46–the parable of the sheep and the goats–points not toward our giving to agencies equipped to help those in need but toward our personal involvement, in our own homes:
…I was a stranger and you invited me in…
So raising $5.6 million for the homeless in one weekend?
But better yet, how about a regular program of training our congregation members how to open their homes to care for the “new homeless” (and maybe a few of the old homeless, too) prior to the financial offering?
In addressing his parishioners’ claims that the church was able to provide hospitality through special apartments, hospitals, and hospices, Chrysostom argued that it also remained a personal, individual responsibility. Even if the stranger could be fed from common funds, he asked, “can that benefit you? If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?”