Yesterday afternoon I participated in an event at the county courthouse. One of Trinity's members, Jack Howle, was being installed as the Chief Public Defender for the 3rd Judicial Circuit. Last year our state legislature passed the Indigent Defense Act of 2007 to coordinate and standardize the public defender offices across the state, and to give the give the public defenders a more equitable status with the solicitor's office. Our own Rep. Murrell Smith was instrumental in getting it passed. It was a needed reform of the system and I understand it has become a model for other states.
Jack was the right man for the job and I felt honored to bring the invocation and benediction. Jack has been the Chief Public Defender in Sumter for ten years and has many more years experience in the field. He is calm and consistent and has a quiet determination to do what is right. Every Tuesday he is at my early morning men's Bible study and is very active in our church. Those who need the services of a public defender are fortunate to have such a dedicated and experienced attorney who sees his work as a call to ministry through his baptism.
Jack's comments after the swearing in acknowledged family and colleagues and the work of the public defenders office. What stuck with me were some of his closing words when he said that the general public often has a erroneous and negative view of the people who must rely on public defenders. Jack said that they are simply people for whom the circumstances and choices of their lives have put them in a position to depend on the expertise of others they cannot afford. "The most difficult part of this job," he said, "is convincing our clients that we really do care about them."
Jack, of course, was talking about the public defender's role, but I immediately thought about the role of the church. How good a job have we done convincing people that we really care about them? It doesn't matter to them if we can share the way of salvation if they perceive that we really don't care about them. What's the old saying? No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
Jesus is not a commodity that we can package, market and distribute to others. Jesus is known in a relationship of grace that is passed from heart to heart. Instead of evangelism and church growth programs, maybe we need to back up and re-train ourselves on being truly caring people. Perhaps we need to pray for hearts of compassion, and then the ability to break apart the stereotypes of the church so that the world can see through us that God indeeds cares. To what lengths are we willing to go to convince others that because of Christ, we actually, really, do care about them?