Pastor, have you ever had a conversation that changed the direction of your life?
Thirty months ago my wife, Kay, while battling cancer, told me her heart had been broken over the greatest health crisis in history -- the HIV/AIDS pandemic -- and that God was calling her to do something about it.
Of course, I encouraged her vision, but I didnt feel any personal calling to get involved. Like you, I was busy pastoring our congregation and serving other pastors. I didnt know God was speaking through my wife to me. But as I heard Kay talk about this worldwide plague, I realized how little I knew about AIDS, how almost everything I knew about it was wrong, and how this crisis could be the greatest opportunity for the church to be the church -- in both our own community and around the world. Soon, God grabbed my heart too.
Consider this: 40 million women, children, and men worldwide have HIV/AIDS with more than 1 million in America! That means, statistically, someone in your church has HIV/AIDS right now. They may not even know it. And more than 50% of people with HIV/AIDS are women and children. Did you know that?
The Gospels repeatedly show that Jesus loved, touched, and cared for lepers -- the diseased outcasts of his day. Todays lepers are those who have HIV/AIDS. They often hide their condition -- even from family -- out of fear or shame.
Im convinced the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the churchs greatest opportunity to visibly demonstrate Gods love to skeptics. It is also an incredible opportunity to grow in Christlike character, to share the Good News with the hurting, and to extend your churchs witness into your community and around the world.
Most people expect the government, not the church, to take care of people with HIV/AIDS. But Jesus said this to his church, Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40 (KJV)
You may be thinking, What can the Church do? The answer is, a lot more than you think! I believe the local church is the only organization that can eradicate this disease. The six ways congregations can attack AIDS are expressed in the acrostic C.H.U.R.C.H.
Care for and comfort the sick
Churches are commanded to care. It is their calling. Love leaves no choice! Local congregations are the only caring organization found in every community around the world. Members can offer physical and emotional care in homes and in the community.
Help test and counsel
Churches are the most trusted organizations in villages and towns, so people are more willing to be tested and counseled there. Just being tested has proven to promote healthier behavior. Members can be trained to give medical, emotional, vocational, and family counsel to those receiving results from their testing. They can also offer pre-treatment preparation and treatment education to the entire family.
Unleash an army of volunteers
Churches have the largest volunteer labor force on the planet -- 2.1 billion members. What if just half of those could be mobilized? There arent enough professionals in the world to teach prevention, administer treatment, and offer care to those who need it. There is an enormous pool of untapped talent, energy, and relationships sitting unused in churches.
Remove the stigma
Churches are best positioned to remove any shame and stigma. Churches
offer faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and grace spiritual support which neither business nor government can offer. In many parts of the world, if the church says youre OK, youre OK!
Champion healthy behavior
HIV/AIDS is a behavior-based disease, making it 100% preventable. Churches have the moral credibility to challenge high-risk lifestyles, and teach the moral motivation for abstinence and faithfulness. To resist peer pressure and relapse, faithfulness requires faith.
Hand out meds and nutrition
The church has the largest distribution network on the planet. It is universal, and it is already in place! Millions of villages have a church, but nothing else. The only way for treatment to become universal is to develop a church-based treatment model. NGOs come and go, but churches are permanent community fixtures. Members can be trained to distribute ARVs and other meds, vitamins, and food.
Do you see how your church can now make a difference?
This fall, Bill and Lynne Hybels, the outstanding ministry couple who founded the pacesetting Willow Creek Community Church are going to join Kay and me, along with an impressive roster of the leading HIV/AIDS authorities in the world for Disturbing Voices: An International HIV/AIDS Conference, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, 2005, at Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif. It will be an historic and world-changing conference that we dont want you to miss. Together, well examine why and how your church can be a leader and your members can model for others what it means to care for the sick the way Jesus did and commanded.
For details on the conference and to register, click here.
Will you partner with the Hybels, the Warrens, and many others in what could be the Churchs finest hour? I pray you will join us.
Until next week,
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 27, 2005.]
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.