“You might think,” I told a group of high school students gathered for “Service Day” at our church’s community meal, “that we have to deal a lot with scarcity here. We are trying to feed 250 people a week entirely from donations. But the truth is that our bigger problem is often how to deal with abundance.”
I pointed at the table where we had put donations that came in from a nearby Whole Foods: strawberries just about to rot, packages of guacamole, gallons of milk, cartons of organic yogurt, and dozens of loaves of bread.
Over ten years ago Andrew Walls, the renowned historian and mission theologian, with whom I was studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, mentioned that one of his students had begun researching African immigrant churches in New York City. The student, according to Walls, was literally walking block by block in the city looking for these churches, of which very little was known at the time.
In Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More, lord chancellor of England under Henry VIII, attempts to reassure his wife and daughter (who are rightly concerned for his safety) by pointing to himself with the words, “This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made.”
“Social entrepreneurship" involves innovators who address problems in society and advance a particular social mission to serve a larger good. We Christians have long had people who fulfilled this role, people who founded the Salvation Army, Goodwill and many hospitals and universities.But in the last few decades churches and denominations seem to have lost their steam. Have we Christians lost our sense of social entrepreneurship?
I have a recurring nightmare about the final exam on which my college graduation depends. Thinking I am prepared, I open a blue booklet only to discover that I am being tested in a language I do not know. I try to explain that there has been a terrible mistake, but the proctor is unforgiving. I am sent back to my chair to take a test that I have no hope of understanding, let alone passing.
When asked, “Whatever happened to the mainline Protestant churches?" as I often am, I respond: Mainline decline is an old, tired story, but mainliners’ mission is urgent. How are mainline churches recovering? By going local in order to turn global.
"What keeps you up at night?” I asked the African cardinal at the end of a leisurely lunch near his home. Our conversation had ranged across a variety of topics: the scourge of AIDS in Africa, ineffective leadership within the churches, the character of theological education in our respective contexts, and our own calls to ministry.