Johnny Cash once lamented in song, “You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good.”
Cash’s criticism may be on the mark for a few of the thousands of faith communities in our country.
The vast majority of congregations, however, do a remarkable amount of good for the communities in which they reside precisely because they understand that the God of the heavens cares about the people he has created here on the earth.
Take for instance my congregation, Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas. This suburban congregation has around 800 active participants in a city of 100,000.
Church members’ activities include far more than simply attending worship on Sunday mornings. Their efforts throughout the week do much to build the social capital of our community.
For example, quite a bit of good happens each Wednesday night, as a group of church members helps teach English as a second language to 25 to 35 adults.
Southland is one of only three locations in the city in which a person can receive free English classes. It is the only one of those places with free children’s programs at the same time.
Over the past seven years, nearly 125 students from 14 different countries have been through the program.
Their improved English skills have increased the students’ ability to navigate everything from the healthcare system, to the job market, to their own children’s schooling.
Five of the students have become United States citizens. For these students, the church has done much good.
The church has also made a significant impact in our city through the development of a citywide summer feeding program.
Four years ago, a segment of school-aged children in San Angelo actually dreaded the arrival of summer vacation.
For these children, at least six weeks of their summer vacation would be spent without access to the free lunches provided by the school system.
When a couple of women from Southland Baptist Church caught wind of this fact, they rallied their own church and sister congregations to step up and fill the gap.
That first summer they managed to get eight churches to partner together to deliver more than 18,000 meals to hungry children.
Four years later, volunteers from 12 congregations including Southland fed more than 27,000 meals to San Angelo children.
The people who have joined together to make this program a reality are now exploring ways to make all of San Angelo food secure within the next few years.
More good happens at an elementary school Southland has adopted.
Located in a working class neighborhood where most parents work multiple jobs, this campus has had difficulties recruiting enough volunteers to run many of their extracurricular activities.
Southland members stepped up to the plate providing volunteers for their fall festival, for a math and science night, as well as other events during the school year.
Southland members also went out of their way to encourage the teachers on this campus with an annual back-to-school breakfast, monthly lunches and other treats throughout the year.
Members also make sure the school’s clothes closet stays filled up with new clothing, and a handful of men have spent time mentoring some of the boys that were having difficulty staying out of trouble.
Teachers from this school regularly stop me at the grocery store or in restaurants to thank me for Southland’s investment in their school.
For a few years, my favorite ministry to this elementary school involved a Sunday school class of elderly women who gathered at the church to chat with one another and to cut out supplies for one of the kindergarten teachers.
Each week, I would stick my head in the room where they were working and ask what they were cutting out.
“Purple dinosaurs!” they would answer back, laughing. Their laughter was a sign that when a church invests in the social capital of their city, the good goes both ways.
These three ministries are just a few of the many ways Southland Baptist Church contributes to the common good of our corner of the planet earth.
In addition to these ministries, Southland members volunteer in prisons, hospitals, assisted living facilities and homes for abused and neglected children.
Outside of our own community, Southland members are providing clean water in places as far away as Uganda, Ethiopia and Bolivia through a well-drilling movement called Water for All, International.
As a people of faith, we make no apologies for being heavenly minded, but we’d take issue with anyone who would suggest that makes us of no earthly good.
It is, after all, our faith that leads us to do all kinds of good right where we find ourselves.
I’m confident my church is just one example of many other faith communities that do much good for the larger communities of which they are a part.
Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of articles on local churches bringing social capital to their communities. An article by Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., will appear on Thursday.
Previous articles in the series are: