Keeping Christ central
A weekly series from HOPE’s director of spiritual integration
It’s a question I’m asked often:
Aren’t you basically providing financial incentives to get people to convert to Christianity?
At HOPE, we’re passionate about combining two objectives some view as unrelated, even dangerous: 1) promoting sustainable poverty alleviation and 2) clearly inviting others to love and follow Jesus Christ. But at the same time, we are careful not to trick, mislead, or coerce anyone into making a false profession of faith for the simple reason that Jesus didn’t.
In John 6, Jesus is being chased around the Sea of Galilee by a large crowd. He’s healed terrible diseases, fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes, and taught with great authority. Things were going so well the crowd was planning to make Him king by force. In modern language, Jesus was a rock star.
What would you have been thinking if you were one of the disciples? “Surely this is the moment. You’ve got them eating out of your hands … literally! Use your power to make them follow you.”
But in one of the countless ways Jesus defies expectations, He doesn’t capitalize on His fame. Desiring true disciples over admiring crowds, He proclaims harder—even potentially offensive—teachings. The result?
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:60, 66)
What happens next is staggering. Jesus didn’t beg or run after them to clarify: “Wait, I got a little carried away. Let me rephrase.” He let them walk away. And then, as if to drive the point home, He turned and said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
I’m not saying we should select the most difficult passages in the Bible to scare people away. But if our goal is the same as that of Jesus—true discipleship and life-change—we have to be willing to let people walk away. Jesus always honored the dignity and choices of those He met. Remember the rich young ruler. The unrepentant criminal on the cross. You and me.
Similarly, HOPE’s network gives clients the opportunity to choose: to be a client of a Christian organization; to participate in times of Bible study; and, increasingly, to engage in deep discipleship opportunities outside of regular meetings. We believe that when clients choose to attend an optional Bible study led by local pastors or talk with their loan officer about troubles they’re facing, these choices are some of the best indicators we have of hearts moving toward Christ.
So as you share Jesus with friends, neighbors, or family, remember that if Jesus honored others’ choices to walk away, there will be times when we need to do the same. Giving others the space to say no is hard and requires great discernment. It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying, showing God’s love, or looking for opportunities to connect.
But as we share His call to a life of fully committed discipleship, we can be confident that, no matter what, no one can walk too far to be beyond God’s reach.
In obedience to Christ’s command to love our neighbor and make disciples of all nations, HOPE International provides discipleship opportunities, training, a safe place to save, and small loans. This video will walk you what that process looks like and how families living poverty flourish.
Thank you for this reminder and encouragement!! God certainly has us all in His hands and all He requires of us is obedience each step of the way!
This is excellent! I’m doing a skit with my seven grandchildren about the feeding of the 5000 and trying to point out to them that the people didn’t see Jesus for who he was or want to follow him if he wasn’t going to be their King. It’s not easy to be a Jesus follower… And only He can open their eyes. We just need to be faithful to plant and water …….and “wait” when some walk away.
Jacque and Carlene, thanks so much for the comments.
I think you’re both right about trusting the Lord to reveal Himself to others. Our desire to see people truly embrace Jesus as Lord of their life should eliminate any temptation toward trying to force them into a relationship that they don’t really desire. The discernment isn’t always easy, but it is freeing to remember that it is always His role to change hearts.
Great reflection and certainly one easily complicated with our own expectations along with perspectives that have too often seen coercion used in religious settings.
Knowing that it is the Lord’s Spirit alone who can move in others and that our only responsibility is to be faithful in our witness…That’s not always easy for us who like control and results. But what an encouraging relief it is to be able to trust that the Lord is ultimately leading His Kingdom work!
And whew battling unintentional coercion and the appearance of doing so sure is another difficult challenge! Again, seeking to be faithful to the Lord alone is a good place to begin. A lot of good conversation can be had around this subject for sure. Thanks Matthew!
Thank you for sharing a nuanced response to a question that many NGOs are facing, Matt. I appreciate HOPE’s emphasis on the perhaps unlikely centrality of Christ in ministries involving microfinance. The faith integration is never to preclude non-Christian clients from the economic and social benefits of microfinance, livelihoods and other development programs. Instead these should be considered empowering tools that professing Christians can use to practically demonstrate (and physically deliver) the good news of God’s inclusive love for all. Whether clients accept or walk away from the offer of abundant life in Christ is not a burden we actively carry. What an important reminder that just as Jesus himself showed no fear when people walked away from his promises, we too are free from that anxiety, if we are faithfully living out our own vocations in earthly pursuit of a God’s kingdom of shalom.
Whether or not they are Christians, people choose to patronize your business because they believe in the attractive value proposition offered by the organization. That says something about appeal of HOPE’s holistic model over other market options. Offering complementary discipleship programs on the basis of voluntary involvement ensures that clients maintain the dignity to discern and make their own choices concerning whom they will follow. You mention how HOPE’s programs have seen “clients choose to attend an optional Bible study led by local pastors, or talk with their loan officer about troubles they’re facing” and mention how these actions are “some of the best indicators we have of hearts moving toward Christ.” I couldn’t agree more in terms of holistic program evaluation. Growing in faith can be difficult to measure! But rather than conversion reports and dichotomizing “Are you a Christian? Tick Yes or No”, let’s continue in this more valuable and process-oriented “spiritual metric” that affirm clients’ incremental steps toward a life of faith in Jesus.