I’ve been involved in many Christian causes and organizations over the last 30 years, many of which I still heartily support and advance. In recent years, I’ve added my voice to a new concern among Christians: environmental stewardship—taking care of God’s creation in a balanced, biblically informed way. I am concerned enough that I am helping to start a new organization, called FLOURISH, to equip the church to act on these concerns.
Some in the church and among my own friends and family have asked if creation care is important enough to be a major focus of the church. Yes, I do believe this is a vital issue for Christian churches and families, and one that is informed not primarily by current politics or policies, but by the teaching of scripture, deep traditions of the church, and even practices and values of our parents and grandparents. Modern trends have given us even more reasons to act. Further, genuine efforts to find balance in our lives and in the way we care for the environment fit well with many priorities and programs of the church and can give our evangelism and discipleship efforts more focus and effectiveness.
Perhaps the best way to present rationale for establishing FLOURISH is for me to present a Top Ten List of reasons why we as American Christians should make environmental stewardship a primary concern:
#10. As Christians we are called to be the very best citizens, and we can be obedient as families and churches by working to better the micro-environments of our communities. This may include activities such as planting trees, working for pedestrian and bike paths, or cleaning area watersheds.
#9. We are commanded to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, and the current disruption of many of the delicate balances in the created world around us is causing health problems, and poses the potential of even greater problems for all of us. These dangers are particularly acute for our most needy neighbors, for those living in urban environments, and for our children. Did you know that childhood asthma rates in children are four times what they were 20 years ago?
# 8. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is important not only for national security; it will also address religious freedom issues. Our reliance on oil makes us dependent on undemocratic, despotic foreign regimes that restrict the religious liberty of their peoples, and threaten the stability of democratic allies such as Israel.
#7. Pollution has become a serious life issue. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited a highly toxic form builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. More than 600,000 newborns each year– approximately one in every six babies– are born with harmful mercury levels in their blood. It is unacceptable for our expectant mothers to have to avoid many kinds of fish because we have polluted our waters so badly that their contamination is dangerous to unborn children?
#6. Learning to care for creation and to balance our activities prepares us for missions. The work of our missionaries around the world almost always includes an understanding of how to live on the land, maintain productive harvests, and assure sufficient healthy water. In many areas missions is a blend of evangelism and creation care.
#5. The daily lifestyle habits that lessen damage to the world around us also build faithfulness and family values—practices such as honoring the Sabbath and making it a day of rest, dampening our consumerism, and increasing family time that is relational and close to home.
#4. Through a range of energy-saving changes, churches and families can save a lot of money, which can in turn be used for the programs and missions of the church, for which it is intended. If America’s houses of worship – totaling more than 300,000 – cut energy use by just 10 percent, it would result in an annual savings of $200 million. Prestonwood Baptist Church, a megachurch in Plano, Texas, did a major energy overall and has saved more than $1 million on utilities and water.
#3. Effective evangelism is set on common ground with our unchurched neighbors. Many of them care about the environment, and when we conduct visible and active campaigns to protect and better the environment, this public service puts us side-by-side with others in our community, and enhances our contact and our witness.
#2. The works of God’s creation are, as Romans 1:20 tells us, evidence of God’s attributes. The natural world tells us so much about who God is that Paul says humankind has no good reason for not knowing its Creator. It would be irresponsible for us to allow our actions to diminish that witness.
And the #1 reason the church should make environmental stewardship a primary concern: God told us to. In the creation story God puts man in the Garden to tend and keep it (Gen. 2:15). That responsibility continues to today.
As you know, during the last several years there have been calls for Christians to support various national and international plans and policies to protect the environment. The majority of believers have responded favorably to the view that caring for God’s creation is a biblical imperative and an important part of Christian discipleship in the 21st century. A recent Barna poll indicates that 90 percent of evangelicals in America would like to see Christians do more to care for God’s creation.
Unfortunately, many of the calls for environmental stewardship have come from secular voices that traditionally have been critics of classic Christianity and that still advocate some positions that are contrary to biblical values. Even our evangelical brethren who have championed environmental concerns have made it appear that Christian response to the problems facing us have to be political and must begin with controversial government action on climate change.
This has resulted in overreaction by some of our leaders who have told the followers of Christ that even the most fundamental care for God’s creation is unnecessary and misplaced passion, and that it is laudable to do nothing to address these dangers.
That’s why we are starting FLOURISH, a ministry to equip churches and families to care for creation and advance their witness in our communities, our nation, and the world. For too long we have allowed liberal messengers of the environmental message and contentious government policy discussions to paralyze our faithfulness in creation care.
FLOURISH intends to stand astride the unhealthy chasm between those who prescribe only political solutions and those who would do nothing. We will offer prudent and biblical solutions for individuals, families, and churches—including a variety of training and study materials that will equip pastors, small groups, and youth groups to teach on these topics and to be involved in hands-on activities and missions.
We will be leading a communications effort on creation care in the Christian community through Web-based communications, a quarterly magazine, radio, and other efforts. And we will be providing a turnkey service—the Greater Light Project—to churches to help them audit their use of energy and other impacts on their local environments, and to assist in their efforts to make necessary changes.
Our inaugural project will be the Flourish National Pastors’ Conference on Creation Care to be conducted May 13-15, 2009, at CrossPointe church in Duluth, Georgia (northeast of Atlanta). We intend to gather hundreds of pastors and church leaders at this conference, to continue this conversation in earnest and begin the invigoration of our witness and service in creation care.
Environmental problems, like all others, are of course the result of sin. We often carelessly and unnecessarily damage the world around us because of our sin, and the only complete solution will be found in the life-changing, sin-conquering power of knowing Jesus Christ and in living out that knowledge through the new life he brings. The Christian church bears this truth and, rather than being the tail-end of environmental care, can be the best hope for real progress.