Of course, we want our works to be good and fruitful. But are we misguided in some of our works?
I’ve thought about this a lot in regard to short-term mission trips (which, if you’re not familiar with them, are one to three week trips, usually overseas, to work with poor people groups around the world — usually building structures and well, doing Bible school, helping with medical clinics, etc.). I’ve been on quite a few — seven to Mexico. I think the church is very gung-ho about these trips, and most churches encourage their congregations to participate.
There are definitely pros and cons to these sorts of trips:
Pros: People get connected with long-term missionaries who are living in the countries in which they are working. Participants learn what it’s like to live outside the US and the struggles people go through just to survive — it’s a healthy dose of reality and can move people to even greater compassion. It gives people opportunity to serve outside their comfort zone without having to make a sacrifice they aren’t yet willing to make (moving overseas). It gives people an opportunity to see what long-term missions might look like if they made that choice for themselves. A lot of work (such as building classrooms) can be done in a short amount of time with a group of energized missionaries ready to get their hands dirty. God can’t work with people unless they GO. More people get to hear about God’s redeeming love.
Cons: It may lead communities to have an unhealthy dependence on foreign aid. It is a great expenditure to get short-term missionaries to other countries — plane tickets aren’t cheap and it may be more worth it to send the money directly to the organizations already on the ground helping people. It may encourage the “white messiah” complex that seems to haunt some cultures. Leaders may have a hard time giving up control and try and make people (both on the trip and the people they are serving) fit within their schedules and influence, even if its counter-cultural. People in villages expect missionaries to show up and do things for them (such as fix wells) and never learn to become empowered and self-sufficient.
Once again, life isn’t black and white. Missions aren’t black and white. There are good reasons and not-so-good reasons to go on mission trips. We really need to think about our motivation, planning, and execution before we even set foot on the ground.
I also see this in Christian art, which I’ve written about before. Just because you slap God’s name on it, it doesn’t make it good.
In a different way, Christians may try and promote “good” or “godly” things, to the detriment of people. We put our morals and values above loving other people and understand that behind that “sin” (whatever it may be), there is a living, breathing, feeling child of God. I’m not saying we should compromise our beliefs, but we need to consider that people are looking for Christ in us — and when they see judgmental, close-minded, angry Christians, that’s how they see Christ. We need to do real good. We can’t just spout off the three-part Gospel cloaked in moral rhetoric and think we’ve done our jobs. “They heard the Good News, it’s up to them now!” We need to feed people, rescue people, nurture people, grow people, adopt people, clothe people, find jobs for people, encourage people, LOVE people. By building relationships with people with purpose, then they can see Christ in us, and the Gospel can be understood. That is GOOD.