AN APOLOGETIC WITHOUT AN APOLOGY
I was asked a question this morning that was, in a sense, a request for an apologetic of my life. I was asked this question as I trained coaches who will be engaged in a ministry for the summer that uses soccer to gather inner-city children into teams, which will provide an opportunity for these children to be mentored and discipled by Christian young adults. This is a ministry I helped to start some years ago to use sports to “reach’ children of middle school age in the inner-city.
The question was essentially, “is it worth it?” When there is so much against these kids, to realize that many of them will not make it out of high school, some of them will be killed, and some will become killers, why keep trying to “reach” them? As someone who grew up in the inner city and was “reached” by a loving church I am unequivocal in my response, “yes, for one or many, it is worth it!”
There are some who seem to always be standing on the sidelines criticizing us for “proselytizing.” They have no complaints for us to use sports to cut down teen pregnancy, which we hope to do. They have no complaints that we are fighting obesity and diabetes by using sports, which we try to do. They have no complaints that we are giving inner city kids a productive summer in learning how to play a sport and develop sportsmanship, which we try to do. What our critics don’t want is for us to think that we have to, nor should we, call these children into our religion.
Let me explain our positive view about proselytizing. When we use the word “reach” we mean to so relationally grab hold of a child that we can present, proclaim, and explain Jesus to them. We do this without coercion or force. We do this so that they might come to faith and believe in Jesus for themselves. We also intend for this to simply be a part of a lifelong discipleship process by introducing them into a local church whereby their life can be transformed by the Word of God.
Is that too religious for you? Well, we don’t apologize for that. Instead we simply declare, “…I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes, to the Jew first, and also for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) I think inner city children need a power so strong that it will deliver them from the captivity of sin and the devil. They need a power so strong that no matter what life has thrown at them they will be able to survive, and have hope, and believe that tomorrow will be better than today. I think children of poverty, and from broken homes, who live in communities of violence need a shield and deliverer from trauma. I think they need a friend in God, a new identity in Christ, and a different outcome from those who won’t believe.
So many folks do good things for the poor, and for children. They give them things, they give them experiences. I’m grateful, but I would much rather they be given a new life, a life of power, a life of hope, and a life of meaning. This life comes through their faith and by being loved and cared for by a community known as the church.
It is legitimate to ask if this idea, this effort, this ministry, and in fact a lifetime of ministry such as mine has made any difference at all for anyone? Of course we see the failures, and we sometimes see their faces in the newspaper after they have been a shooting victim, or we see them as a mug shot on their way to prison. We also see the faces of those children coming to church, we see the faces of mothers who thank us for loving their children, we see the faces of those kids graduating from school, we see them making their way and establishing families for themselves. We believe in the face of all the statistics that would make us doubt the value of our life and work that we will see their faces in heaven.
I think the more relevant question might be is anyone’s effort worth it if they are not “reaching” these children? We intend to change the character of boys and girls, and we intend to change their emotions from despair, frustration and rage to emotions of hope and love. We intend to change their futures; concerning education, work, justice, and family. We intend for them to change their culture. We intend, by the grace of God, to change their eternal destination.
I am not intimidated by the question since there has been much good fruit to show for the effort. I am not intimidated by the critics of our evangelical faith, since I see no real contribution from them on the streets. I am downhearted and brokenhearted every day by the statistics, the newspaper accounts, the gunshots, the blood on the street, the caskets at the funerals, the sound of prison bars slamming shut, the absent seats of those we wish we could have reached, the silent voices we will not hear when they could have been singing in the choir. I do not advocate this work because I am ignorant of the mess and disaster, I advocate this work because I have been called, saved, and know the Master, and have seen what He can do.