Apathy and Ignorance in the Church


Tony Campolo is famous (infamous?) for the following statement:

“I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh–. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said sh–than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Campolo)

Whether you agree with his method or not, Tony makes a point. Mr. Campolo highlights one of the barriers to those needs getting met; that barrier is apathy.

There are many physical needs in the world and with the apparent increasing frequency of disasters, these needs are increasing. There are seemingly infinite opportunities to find and meet the needs of people.

While I acknowledge that apathy is a problem, it is not the only problem. There are many who are not apathetic but struggle to know what to do about it. They can give some money to a relief agency or take time to volunteer, but even those efforts seem small in light of the overwhelming need. It is not hard to see why there is sometimes a willful ignorance of what is going on. The fight or flight response seems biased toward the latter.

In the same way, I have heard pleas from missions organizations that are intended to shake off the apathy of those listening and get them to support the effort to bring people to Christ. As with the meeting of physical needs, apathy is one of the factors inhibiting the meeting of spiritual needs. Ignorance also plays a role, perhaps even a larger role. In the case of believers, it is seldom willful ignorance, but a sense of not knowing what to do about it.

In order to do something effectively, I need to know what to do, how to do it and why it needs to be done. As believers, we know why people need Jesus, but we may struggle to know what to do about it and how to do it. In addition to the motivational speech, there also needs to be training as to what each person can do to bring a solution to the problem.

In the case of missions, it is very appropriate to donate money to missions organizations. Suggestions to forgo a latte or a meal out and donate those funds to missions are appropriate. We can learn to live on less and share some of what we have. But there needs to be something more for the church to be all it is intended to be.

What about the spiritual needs closer to home? What about that uncle or cousin who doesn’t know Jesus? What about the cranky neighbor who is intentionally disagreeable? What about the vocal atheist at work who ridicules anyone of faith? What do we do with these? How do we share our faith? Can I respond with confidence and grace when that atheist brings up difficult issues?

As our society becomes increasingly hostile toward the Judeo/Christian world view, and especially hostile to genuine faith in Christ, the need for training on how to deal with these questions will increase.

Thankfully, there are many in the church at large that see the problem and are taking steps to develop materials and methods to train people to defend what they believe and to follow Peter’s advice to “be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The point of this post is to encourage church leaders to:

  1. Train people in foundational Christian doctrine and how to share their faith
  2. Determine what God is calling your local fellowship to do with regard to missions near and far
  3. Articulate a strategy for accomplishing what God has laid on your heart
  4. Give the people in your fellowship a sense of what they can do individually to accomplish the mission

Motivational speeches alone will not get the mission done. We need drill instructors to produce recruits ready for battle.

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