The Warm Glow: And other dangers
The dog in this picture is attacking the biggest problem at hand. He is not concerned with whether another dog is sneaking off with his supper. He is not distracted by, say, a cat wandering through his turf. He is not ignoring the Polar Bear to chase a squirrel.
Of all the dangers that confront churchgoers, the one seldom mentioned to beginners is the outreach program to feed the poor. In my neck of the woods, the re-birth of the church food pantry and various feeding endeavors is usually designed to provide meals to the homeless and disadvantaged on a weekly or monthly rotation. But do such programs really apply resources where the problem is greatest and do they present any obstacles to our spiritual life?
One potential problem is that we like the feeling of breaking new ground by catching a vision and implementing that vision to serve the poor in OUR community. It is a worthy endeavor, though it might be misguided at times due to duplication of services. There is also another potential problem related to these types of programs, one that can stunt our spiritual growth. What is it, you ask? Well, we humans like to be paid even when we volunteer. Allow me to elaborate with an example. My daughter manages volunteers for a well-known Christian organization that has served the poor every day of the year for almost 150 years. People often approach her wanting to volunteer with feeding the poor and homeless, but with a condition: they want to be the person on the front line who physically hands the plates of food or the bags of groceries to people in need. When my daughter explains that the organization has plenty of servers but that they desperately need people working behind the front line, the would-be volunteers vanish like flatulence in the wind. My daughter and I can’t presume to know for certain their intentions and motivations, but it seems like conditional volunteers mostly want the “warm glow” effect. Was their desire to volunteer about the poor, themselves, or a little of both? Was their focus on the greatest problem (remember the Polar Bear)? Probably not. Oddly enough, many Methodist volunteers don’t seem to mind working behind the scenes and out of the lime light. Maybe we non-mainstream protestant types (i.e. evangelicals) require some soul searching.
When a church considers whether to open a food pantry, or any community service program, the vision casters and would-be volunteers must proceed cautiously with the good feelings and warm accolades from the poor that the idea of the program will generate. Powerful emotions can lead to mistakes. Also, would the hours of labor have more impact working behind the scenes with an already-established program at another church or Christian organization in the same community . . . perhaps at a place where the problem is larger and more people are in need? (Focus on the Polar Bear.) Perhaps there is a church a couple blocks away that already has a ministry to feed the poor and homeless. Duplication of effort could be wasteful. If there is a need that nobody else is filling, and you have the passion, skills and calling to meet that need, by all means go for it and start a food pantry or feeding program. (Focus on the Polar Bear.) Just remember it is one thing to have a vision to serve the poor, it is another to make sure our motives are really about the poor and not so much about ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. I am not preaching that the “warm glow” is a sin. I LOVE the “warm glow.” I am saying it doesn’t last as a motivator and if we rely on it too much we can slip into the sin of doing good deeds solely for selfish feelings instead of doing them because we love God.
I know what some of you are thinking: Grady, you’re such a negative Nelly, a naysayer, a downer, a prophet of doom, a pooh-pooher of all things noble and wholesome. You might even think I’m just one of those negative church people who shoot down every idea or vision from the pastor. Granted, I don’t aspire to be an acolyte of the Norman Vincent Peale way of life. I come from the perspective that wearing rose colored glasses ALL THE TIME guarantees that Satan will screw you . . . and maybe a lot of innocent people with you. Yes, I crave the “warm glow” and I know it is a great motivator, but I am done with following leaders simply because they have a great idea wrapped in enthusiasm and presented with warm fuzzy intentions. Can we please, please, please find a deeper way of serving God and humanity with a pure heart that isn’t blind to the dangers of hype and our own errant intentions? I simply crave something more . . . anointed by God. Okay, I’m off my soap now.
The article below demonstrates how the human heart’s desire for too much of the “warm glow” effect can have tragic consequences for humanity:
Posted on December 8, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged Church Food Pantry, Duplication of Services, Feeding the Hungry, Food for Poor, Homeless Feeding, Spiritual Life, Volunteer, Volunteering Motives. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.