A few weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of reading The Just Church by Jim Martin of the International Justice Mission. You can read my review of it here. But today, I wanted to share with you some thoughts from Jim himself in a Q&A format. What have you found to be most effective in moving people from the sidelines of awareness, to the field, so-to-speak--from apathy to action?
One word: Hope. Hope is like a secret weapon. The easiest mistake to make is to simply pound people with statistics and horror stories. But the harsh truth of the problem alone usually serves to produce anger or despair. Anger may produce short bursts of activity, but is not effective fuel for a long journey. Even worse, despair is like inertia—making it even harder for us to take action. But hope is different. Hope motivates, hope increases momentum. At IJM we talk about a ratio of 10 to 1. For every one part stark reality of oppression, you need to inject 10 parts of rescue, restoration and transformation-based hope.
In the book you say, “If we are risk averse, we will be faith poor.” What do you mean?
One of the central points in the first half of the book is the idea that faith is made up of two things: Belief and Trust. Most churches I’ve known are great at teaching belief. There are all kinds of resources out there that help us hone our understanding of what we believe about God. But most churches, including churches I’ve led, are not very good at teaching trust—simply because this is much more difficult to teach—and learn. Learning trust always involves risk. This is true in human relationships and it’s true in our relationship with God. As I have taken on appropriate risk and experienced God as faithful and sufficient in it, my trust has grown. Simply put the equation is Faith = Belief + Trust. If we are risk averse, we will be faith poor.
You talk about the relevance of “failure points”. Would you describe this concept for people or churches that are passionate about the battle for justice in our time?
For me, this is one of the keys to growing faith. In the book I make the comparison to weight training. In order to strengthen muscles, many schools of weight training encourage us to push our muscles to the failure point—the point at which our muscles cease to function. This was something of an “aha!” for me. For a long time I’d been looking for a way to describe what happens when we faithfully follow God into difficult situations, especially those outside our normal experience. Sometimes in those situations I’ve had the experience of coming to the end of my faith—the place where I was no longer sure that God was actually sovereign. This was especially true the first several times I encountered victims of sexual violence and heard their stories. The stark reality of that kind of suffering was challenging to contemplate, not just emotionally, but theologically. It forced all kinds of questions about God’s sovereignty, God’s goodness. It was again and again in those places, that counter-intuitively that God would actually prove to be both sovereign and good. These experienced deepened my faith perhaps more than any others in my life.
If a church could do just one thing to begin an intentional process of moving toward being a more “just church” today, what would that be?
Reverse the spiral of isolation. That is to say, so many churches in the US (and in other more “developed” parts of the world) struggle with isolation. If we are isolated enough as to be largely unaware of injustice-related suffering altogether, then this lack of awareness will actually affect how they read the Scriptures. Because we don’t see this kind of suffering in the world, we don’t notice when we are reading about it in the Scriptures. Not noticing it in the Scriptures, we are not compelled to see it in the world. And the spiral accelerates. We need to reverse the spiral by taking a careful look at the Scriptures for their call to engage injustice in the world. And we need to take a hard look at the world to see the kind of suffering experienced by our neighbors. Having done that, I have little doubt that the God of justice will move us to action.
You can learn more about The Just Church and purchase your own copy here. It's a book you don't want to miss!