Cause: a charitable undertaking <for a good cause>*
Agenda: an underlying often ideological plan or program <a political agenda>*
Most Christian workers want to participate in causes but end up pushing agendas. This has to do with how we approach the work God gives us to do. In Galatians 5:25 Paul says that, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Engaging in one of the causes that God cares about and allowing that work to grow as the Spirit leads is far different than identifying a need in the Kingdom and then building our own solution in order to solve the need. In one we allow the Spirit to remain in control and in the other we take the reins and drive the process.
There is a fundamental difference between a cause and an agenda. Sadly today they are almost seen as synonyms. A cause is an area of God’s work in the world that has room for many actors and many approaches. Examples of Biblical causes can be seen in Eric Foley’s book The Whole Life Offering. Click here to see his chart describing the various causes at work in God’s Church. An agenda is a personal tool and is designed to benefit others only as they come in line with the one who holds the agenda. We see examples of agendas everywhere. Whether it is a politician who is pushing a certain approach to government reform or a ministry pushing a specific strategy for Church planting, both are agendas that the entities have designed around specific needs that their political parties or organizations have.
But even though agendas don’t leave much room for God’s Spirit or work, agendas are popular because:
1) they are personality driven and we like to align with people we agree with
2) they are programmatic and easy to get our hands around
3) they reduce ambiguity and affirm a certain solution to a known problem.
Causes, on the other hand, are based on value systems and perceived needs. They don’t prescribe a solution to the problem but instead create a context and define values by which the problem can be addressed. These are much more powerful than agendas because many people can join a cause and tackle the issues at hand from a variety of angles. They are free to respond to the Spirit in the context of the ministry challenge.
The sad truth is that many people start out joining a cause and then quickly get trapped in an agenda. This happens because our consumer society demands that we package, design, distinguish and brand our particular contribution in order to be a valid and affirmed solution to any given problem. This is what we involved in Kingdom work must resist.
As we actively join in and engage with the causes that God cares about, we must keep our hands open as to how they will be addressed. God can use anyone from any part of His Kingdom to bring His love to this troubled world. We must be prepared to embrace those who are in step with the Spirit and encourage anyone who is obediently responding to His call.
*From The Merriam-Webster Dictionary