“Helen, you look like you’re on a mission trip, why are you taking photos of me cleaning windows?”. Ilir’s point was a good one. We have both had a lot of experience of mission teams who photograph literally everything they do, see (or eat) for the ‘report to church’ when they get home, and at times we have found ourselves doing roughly the same thing so that we have some ‘proof’ of what we’re doing for our prayer letters and blog (Exhibit A: Mission Trip – Gevgelija).
I remember hearing a story of a missionary who went to a supermarket to buy food for a poor family, they asked a local to help choose the food and do the ‘heavy lifting’ and simply posed for a photo with the shopping trolley at the end without acknowledging the help they had received. Their visit to the supermarket was for a good reason but the focus became on the wrong thing.
Please don’t assume I’m being overly critical of anyone who has exhibited this kind of behaviour, I have certainly been guilty of it myself. I simply want to examine whether we take these kinds of photos for the right reasons.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Oh dear. Have we been guilty of doing exactly what Jesus says we shouldn’t do? Well, I certainly hope it doesn’t look that way. Ilir and I can both remember life without computers, mobile phones, Facebook and everything else that seems indispensable to us nowadays, but because social media has become so much a part of everyday life it seems perfectly normal for us to share things about our lives online including sharing pictures and updates about what we do in our service to God through the church. When we write blog posts or our prayer letter we don’t think to ourselves “Haven’t we been productive! This is really going to impress people!” No! We think “Are we representing the ministry of the church well enough? Does this picture actually help people understand why we’ve chosen to serve the Lord?”
I believe there is a fine line between a publicity stunt and a ministry update and that that fine line is honesty and integrity. A publicity stunt would be to only show you the occasions where we’ve visited poor families and distributed food and to give the impression that Kosova is no more than that and that that’s all we do. But we want to do more than that and be honest about the realities of life here. Yes, there are many poor people in Kosova and we visit and distribute food to them, but in-between those visits we do other things, like teach English, lead worship in the church, go bowling with the youth from the church, play football, spend time with friends and family etc. much of which we choose to document here on our blog.
What has this got to do with cleaning windows I hear you ask? Well, to put it in context, our new church building has a room that we have dedicated as a prayer room. Little by little we’re adding to it, making it a nicer place to spend time with God, where we can focus on prayer and shut out other distractions (Matthew 6:6). Curtains were this week’s addition. Not only do they provide privacy but they also soften the harsh sunlight and warm the room. But the windows! They were filthy! So Ilir and Petrit started washing the windows outside while Drita and I polished them on the inside (Petrit and Drita are also both leaders in the church). The difference was amazing, we were no longer distracted by the buildup of dirt and could enjoy the room for its true purpose.
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
As believers we have a responsibility to serve others and, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. The church is a family and the church building our house, so making the family house a nicer place to be can be seen as a way of serving other members of the family. But we’re not just serving other believers, we are working for the Lord. And as we are working for the Lord we should do so wholeheartedly not because we know that we will receive a reward but because the Lord deserves our best.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
I remember as a teenager in the UK witnessing a conversation between a church leader and another member of the church. It was Sunday morning and a fox had defecated on the front steps of the church (not uncommon in an English suburb). The church leader said to the member “Don’t you think someone should clear that up before everyone arrives for church?”. In response the church member went and got a spade, broom and bin bag and proceeded to clean the steps. No one wants the job of cleaning fox excrement off the steps of the church, but what struck me about that occasion was that the person who had taken on the responsibility of leadership was not prepared to get their hands dirty and serve the church in a practical way.
I expect you’ll find plenty of people like that in churches all over the world, but hopefully you’ll also find plenty of other people who are prepared to do the dirty work: Pastors who are prepared to take the bins out as well as preach, church leaders who are prepared to do the washing up as well as count the offering, Sunday School teachers who are prepared to pick chewing gum out of the carpet as well as tell Bible stories and do colouring. We aim to be the latter. Cleaning the windows isn’t a publicity stunt, it’s serving the Lord and our church in a practical way.
Did I need to take photos of Ilir cleaning the windows? No, not really, although this post might have been a little dull without them. But by taking these photos it did make me think about how we present the things that we do: not to show off, but to honestly give account of our service and the ministries of the church to those who pray for and support us.