By Jim Jewell and Rusty Pritchard, co-founders, Flourish
Published in the Summer 2009 issue of Flourish magazine
Today Christians are increasingly confronted with the challenges of environmental stewardship–of taking care of God’s creation in a balanced, biblically informed way.
This true creation care must by inspired not by politics or trends, but by the teaching of Scripture, the deep traditions of the Church, and some of the practices and values of our predecessors. In caring for creation we can strengthen our families and our churches, and we can give our evangelism and discipleship efforts more focus and effectiveness.
Flourishing churches are those that draw people to God, encourage balanced spiritual growth, grow healthy families, care for communities, and communicate the gospel to those outside the faith. A big part of flourishing is stewardship. In recent years, strong financial ministries have encouraged churches and families to be good stewards of their money, and have provided them with advice, tools, and resources.
The Church needs similar help in the area of environmental stewardship. Some churches pursue environmental action merely to follow the culture. But for Christians, being “green” is not a fad or a fashion. Biblical environmental stewardship must be an enduring care for creation that’s deeply rooted in faith and that testifies to the Creator.
Here are eight ideas to help your church flourish through creation care:
Start with Scripture, not with a focus on political issues or even environmental problems. Politics and science are constantly changing, but God’s Word is constant. Read what the Bible says about caring for creation and people from Genesis 2:15, where God first instructs us to “tend and keep” the earth, through Revelation 21, with its image of the renewed heaven and earth.
Plan a church emphasis around creation care near Thanksgiving, when churches have historically celebrated the harvest. Peter Illyn, of the Christian environmental ministry Restoring Eden, says “Thanksgiving is a much more natural time to focus on God’s good earth than at secular holidays like Earth Day.”
Keep the Sabbath
Perhaps the most radical thing a church can do in the area of environmental stewardship is commit to keeping the Sabbath. The scriptures about Sabbath-keeping constantly reference rest and care for the land as well as for people. God rested on the seventh day of Creation to enjoy His good handiwork. Spending time with family and friends and enjoying the free outdoors is an act of resistance to the pressures of materialism and consumerism, and an act of obedience to God’s will.
Encourage the children (and adults!) in your church to spend at least an hour a day outside. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, “Christians should take the lead in reconnecting with nature and disconnecting from machines.” Inspire families in your church to turn off the TV, computer, and video games and help their kids have more “green time” than “screen time.”
Pick a local park, stream, or streetscape littered with trash and vandalism, and have a cleanup day. You can find a link on our website to a network of Christians in Conservation called A Rocha (Portuguese for “the rock”); among other useful resources, they have a downloadable guide for how to organize a community clean up. By joining together, they say, “we can visibly demonstrate to our communities that God actively cares for his creation and so do we.”
You may never have been to an Earth Day festival, but it’s likely that the unchurched people in your community have. Earth Day is the fastest growing secular holiday, and it’s a great outreach opportunity. Visit a festival this year, and make plans to have an outreach table next year, witnessing to the Creator who made the good earth the attendees are celebrating.
Do a church energy audit
Let the youth group help do an initial church energy audit (read our article “First steps in creation care for church facilities” on flourishonline.org to get started), based on your last year’s utility bills and a facility inspection, and let them use next year’s cost savings for a mission trip. Or do what Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas did, and solicit professional help to do a major energy overhaul. Prestonwood has saved more than $1 million on utilities and water since its facilities overhaul.
Meet and connect with other churches and families whose lives and ministries are changing because of their care for creation. Visit flourishonline.org to learn about a growing network of evangelical churches involved in creation care, and to read more stories about lives that have changed because God’s call to care for creation was taken seriously.
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. For too long we have allowed non-Christian messengers of the environmental message and contentious government policy discussions to paralyze our faithfulness in creation care.
But churches need to stand astride the unhealthy chasm between those who prescribe only political solutions and those who would do nothing. Environmental problems, like all others, are the result of sin. The only complete solution to them exists in the life-changing, sin-conquering power of knowing Jesus Christ and in living the new life he brings. The Christian Church bears this truth and, rather than ignoring or delaying environmental care, can be the best hope for real progress.