We all have agendas.
When my boss enters the room and tells me that he wants the report ready by the end of the day, his agenda is that he wants efficiency in decision-making and needs the report in order to achieve this aim. When my daughter’s (annoying!) meowing ball of fluff is scratching at the back door for food, his agenda is probably getting a full tummy, though I often think it’s just to have Emily’s attention. When I say ‘Well done’ to my son after he takes out the rubbish, my agenda is that this good behaviour will be repeated with the least possible amount of nagging in the future.
We all have agendas. Often they define how we live, how we act,or how we interact with others. But they are there. It’s the old ‘What’s in it for me?’ question.
So when I hear people speaking about being ‘missional,’ or having some form of ‘outreach’ ministry in the church, I can’t help but see agendas, possibly because the overall aim of the church is clear: get more people in the door, share the gospel with as many as possible, see more baptisms, develop more successful programs, have more money in the offering each week to pay the increasing salaries and overheads of the ministry. . . . and I become skeptical.
I see too many times how our own agendas can easily creep into our service for others: we love and do acts of kindness with the hope of getting someone’s approval, someone’s attendance at a church service, or getting someone’s ear as we share the good news of Jesus. But is this truly the love of Christ?
I remember reading about a church somewhere in the midwest of the U.S. that began a servanthood evangelism ministry by simply doing small acts of kindness in their community. No gospel tracts. No flyers. No invitation. No newspaper columns or PR photos. Not even a ‘disclaimer’ note explaining the church’s involvement. The goal was to simply be good neighbours.
They gave energy-saving light bulbs out door to door. They washed cars for free. They mowed lawns (also for no charge). They pulled weeds and planted flowers. They simply did. No agenda. No strings attached. Just being the people they believed God wanted them to be.
When interviewed about this ‘successful and visionary program,’ the pastor stated that the only agenda was to show the love of Jesus to his city in any way possible. If someone happened to ask ‘Why,’ then they would share that God loves us so much and we want to share that love with our neighbours. Period. No gospel message. No invitation to a service. No payment of any type sought or received.
I don’t know what this did for this particular church, or even if that program is still continuing. My own feeling would be that the people of that community couldn’t help but be impressed. But that wasn’t the goal. Their story brought home to me the importance of being the light in the world and the salt of the earth without any underlying goal except to love.
Too often when I serve someone (or the larger church) I’m in it for my own agenda–for a payment of some sort. While it may not be money, it can often be praise, self-satisfaction, even for the development of my personal giftedness. I may speak with the aim of seeing how much I can convince people into changing their ways, or sing with the hope that I’ll move someone to tears or to ‘Hallelujahs.’ I may carry on a conversation with the goal of presenting my own perspective in a convincing manner. My agenda too often is anything but love.
Jesus never intended to start a religion, let alone recruit people to join one. I don’t see the Jesus of the gospels as having any agenda but to show the love of God to all he met. He never asked for a show of hands, never counselled people into accepting him, never told his disciples to build big church buildings then fill them with like-minded people. He never sought for himself anything, not even shelter or food. He simply lived love. And this attracted more and more people to follow him (and some to seek his death!).
Paul wrote to the Roman church, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy’ (Romans 12:9). I have often paused on this verse, wondering what he meant. Looking at it in the context of the self-sacrificing love of Christ, I believe it could mean loving purely for love’s sake alone, not with the duplicity of having an agenda for every act of kindness.
If we show love to someone with the goal of getting them to come with us to church, is that hypocritical? If we do an act of kindness for a neighbour simply so we have an opportunity to share the good news with them, is this loving like Jesus? If we mow someone’s lawn and help them clean out their gutters because we want to share the love of Christ which (we hope) will bring the end result of their ‘salvation,’ is this agenda pure?
Loving without an agenda is radical. It calls into question so much of what the Christian Church promotes. As humans, it is extremely difficult to do. But following the example of Jesus, who loved the world even to the point of death, has never been the easy way. Yet for all who seek to follow him, it is the only way. We are his hands, his feet, and his voice. Through us he has chosen to display his love and grace with no strings attached.
May God help us to be light and salt–with absolutely no agenda but love.