Sympathy Is No Substitute For Action

For several years now, the Reach Youth Global team has had the privilege of serving many different people in various countries and cities around the world.  We’ve also had the opportunity to do ministry alongside incredible organizations and individuals. In the midst of it all, I noticed something interesting.

When it comes to acknowledging the less fortunate in the world, there is no shortage of sympathy from the Christian church. It’s easy for congregations and groups to feel sorry for them, to muster up empathy for those without eternal hope. But far too often, the Christian response stops there.

Many respond emotionally to the fallen human condition, but there is a serious lack of action following sympathy to make a real, tangible difference.

Like the great African missionary David Livingstone said, “Sympathy is no substitute for action.” So we ask ourselves, how can we really begin to make a difference in the midst of deep devastation beyond merely feeling moved emotionally?

Why is sympathy easy?

It’s healthy to feel emotion for the lost—in fact, we should each grieve for them, but that should just be the beginning of our response. If we do nothing but shed a few tears over a situation, then our emotions are in vain.

But when we use our emotional response as stepping-stones, they can lead to great action and in turn, influence lasting change. Emotions can also be good in that they often lead us to discover our true passions and heavenly callings, sometimes aside from our vocation.

When I first went into the mission field, I had no idea how much it would affect me. But when I saw firsthand what it was like to be an under-resourced child, to be an orphan, my heart broke. As I wrestled with sadness for those children, our team made a vow to do something, to impact their situations and, with the help of God, provide a way for change.

So we bought some land, started an orphanage in Uganda, and Reach Youth Global was born.

Use emotions as a starting point

God gives each of us unique passions. For some, impact might happen in the corporate world, some of us may be called to minister through the arts, yet others will use their skills to minister through aid provisions, education, or medicine.  

Our responses to different needs will never be the same; we all are called in different ways to further the Kingdom here on earth. And that’s the beauty of the body of Christ. The need is great, and God has equipped each of us specifically for our calling. Together, when we each do our part to reach even just one person, we reach the world.

Whatever your call, whatever needs tug at your heartstrings, pursue action beyond your emotions and encourage change.

Here at Reach Youth Global, we constantly have to remind ourselves to avoid sinking into our emotions at the cost of forgoing action. Instead, we seek to use sympathy to empower and jumpstart an actionable response to national and international need.

Sympathy is easy. Anyone can feel sympathy. But to take it, to make meaning from it, to drive action with it—those people are the ones that God’s eyes roam the earth for, they are the ones God calls and blesses.

Sal Sberna

Sal Sberna was Lead Pastor at The MET Church in Houston, Texas for 20 years. He retired on February 2015. He and Kristi Sberna have been married since 1981. They have two children, Salvatore and...more