Why Paying it Forward Isn't Enough

"Pay it forward!" is the motto of the day. I hear and see it everywhere, among non-Christians and Christians alike. And while the idea of random acts of kindness is nice, Christians are really doing people a disservice when they practice it.

Let me explain.

Last summer, I learned about an event at our local park. A bunch of local churches got together and gave away backpacks full of school supplies for any child that needed one. In addition, there were free used clothes, hot dogs and drinks, face painting, a bouncy house, and a few other free activities. It was a fantastic idea.

Well, this year has been financially difficult for us, so I decided to attend the event with my husband and children. We didn't have to fill out forms or make applications; all we had to do was show up - hours early, it turned out, because there were long, long lines for the free backpacks.

I noticed two things during this event:

1. There was a lot of grumbling and complaining among those parents. ("Why can't they just start giving away the backpacks early?" "Why can't they give us a number so we don't have to stand in line?" "They really should do things better.")

2. While the local churches were doing a really nice thing, where was Christ? I really couldn't find him anywhere at the event.

This last part struck me hard. 

These churches had really worked to put together the event. They shopped for backpacks and school supplies, they set up booths, they gathered and sorted used clothes, they arranged for games and food...but they did virtually nothing to meet anyone's spiritual needs.

Now, to be fair, they did give out pocket New Testaments to any child who wanted one, and one time I heard the announcer mention a prayer booth where anyone could go and pray with one or two members of a church. (Every time I walked past, the booth was empty.)

And in the meantime, pop music was blaring - and sometimes the lyrics were, in my opinion, inappropriate. An announcer on a mic kept cheering for the volunteers and for the town itself, but never once mentioned God. When I asked several volunteers what churches were involved, they couldn't tell me; they could only name their own church. None of the volunteers I spoke with invited my family to their church. There were no invitations or announcements or anything else encouraging people to go to any of the churches or other church events. There was no mention of Jesus. There was no Gospel.

In short, it was basically a secular event.

This sort of thing saddens me deeply. Yes, Jesus told us to help others and do good things for them. (1 John 3:17 and Matt. 25: 35- 40, among many others)  But he also told us to tell everyone about the Gospel (Matt 28: 19). Because while it's a good thing to meet a person's physical needs, what matters most is that person's soul. If we put cash in a Redbox DVD case, but don't point the next renter to Christ, what have we really achieved? If we feed and clothe and school every person on the planet, but don't attempt to lead them away from Hell, what are we thinking? What are we feeling? We certainly aren't loving those people. In fact, we are showing them hatred. Because if we truly love them, we can't be satisfied with giving them food or clothes or anything else they think they need. If we truly love them, it pains us to think of them being separated from God for eternity.

Next time you "pay it forward," consider this. Could you put a Bible reference in that Redbox DVD, perhaps leading a curious person to look up a Bible online? Or the next time you bring dinner to a family going through a crisis, could you also give them a Bible and a list of sections in it that might help them get through that crisis? At your next church event to help the needy, could you say a prayer? Say "Praise God!"? Invite everyone to your church? Most importantly, give everyone a tract or a simple flyer explaining why Jesus died for our sins and how everyone has the choice whether or not to accept that gift?

Whatever you do, remember you are doing it for the Lord (Col. 3:23). It's not His will that any person should go to Hell. (Matt. 18:14) And he's charged YOU with explaining the gospel to them.

1 comment

  1. I think it took a lot of grit to post this. There is nothing wrong with doing stuff for others, but that is NOT the gospel. Seems like in the day we live in, the main focus of missions is fixing up houses or doing something for someone. That is all fine in its place, but it does NOT replace telling people about Jesus. The great commission says to "go ye into all the world and PREACH THE GOSPEL," not do acts of kindness. Again,not one thing wrong with acts of kindness! You obviously know what I'm saying. And another issue is making the church so wordly that there isn't very much distinction between the two anymore. Sad.