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    Hard questions for Christian ministries

    The time for Christians to assume full responsibility for social ministries is very much at hand. Political conservatives within the church have contended that it is the task of individual Christians, not the government, to help the poor and other victims of social pathologies.

    Now the test as to whether or not this is a viable response to needy people is here. With the passing of the Welfare Reform Bill, sociologists predict that as many as two million children will be forced below the poverty level. This requires an unprecedented response both in giving and in volunteering from the Christian community.


    Over against the doubts as to whether we are up to the challenge are many signs of hope. Habitat for Humanity using volunteers and private contributions is planning to build 50,000 new houses for the poor before the turn of the century. Orthopraxis, a Christian collegiate volunteer program, hopes to have five thousand students working with “at risk” children in urban neighborhoods. And Promise Keepers, the most dynamic men’s movement in history, has committed itself to social ministries in the African-American community.

    This growing enthusiasm to solve social programs through private initiatives could be a bonanza to thousands of missionary organizations that have been struggling to minister to disadvantaged people without the needed human and financial resources. They are bound to inherit a windfall of benefits from this volunteerism and giving. But as we join this growing crusade, we ought to ask some important questions. First, we ought to ask whether a given ministry belongs to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. This is a Christian organization that checks up on Christian ministries to make sure they are properly audited and that there are no questionable fiscal practices. Personally, I would be reluctant to support a ministry if it did not have membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability or give some other clear evidence that its fiscal house was in order.

    Secondly, we should ask if the ministry is actually accomplishing what it claims in its publicity and newsletters. All too often, ministries exaggerate what they are doing and convey what they hope to achieve as though it was “a done deal.” As a case in point, if all the ministries claiming to be reaching troubled youth in the city of Philadelphia were for real, there would be more observable evidence.

    Thirdly, we ought to ask about efficiency in the use of resources. If a ministry has buses, do they get enough use to warrant their cost? If a ministry has facilities such as a gym, do they get ample use to warrant the money invested in them? And most importantly, does the staff really use its time to optimize service. It can be disconcerting to find “servants of God” wasting time sitting around doing “busy work” instead of directly ministering to people.

    Wouldn’t it be tragic if when turning to Christian organizations to do social ministries, we find that some of them waste our money even more than some governmental agencies did? Wouldn’t it be sad if we find that Christian ministries do the seemingly impossible and out do government agencies in inefficiency? Let’s ask the questions to avoid such possibilities.

    Author and speaker Tony Campolo is a professor of sociology at Eastern College in St. David, PA.

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