Barriers to Engagement

On Sunday, we talked about Judges 4 and the idea that God wants us to join Him in actively fighting against injustice. Scripture is clear that God is passionate about His purposes in the world, and He is always on the side of those who are downtrodden and oppressed. As children of God, we are called to join Him in giving a voice to the voiceless and defending the defenseless.

If you are a follower of Christ, I would guess this is something you want to participate in. I seriously doubt that many people in our church lack the desire to help those in need. Yet, the reality is we don’t find ourselves participating in this kind of work as often as we would like. So what keeps us from engaging those who are hurting and meeting the needs right in front of us? Emotions such as fear or the idea that we simply lack the right information are what probably come to mind. However, one study done at Princeton University a number of years ago says that our busy schedule might be the biggest barrier to us meeting the needs of those around us.

Two men named John Darley and Daniel Batson did a study called “From Jerusalem to Jericho” where they wanted to study what factors increased or decreased our likelihood of helping others in need.[1] They performed the study with a group of seminary students from Princeton, and their goal was to see if good intentions, social awareness, or being in a hurry had any effect on our willingness to help someone in need. The students were asked to prepare a sermon on a biblical theme and then walk to another building on campus to deliver it. A man was staged along the pathway groaning in pain to see how many students would stop to help.

"The Good Samaritan"  by Paula Modersohn-Becker
“The Good Samaritan”
by Paula Modersohn-Becker

The study found that the students who got into ministry to help people out were not any more likely to help the man than the students who went into ministry for more personal reasons. Even more fascinating was the students who were asked to prepare a talk on the story of the Good Samaritan were also not any more likely to help than those who were preaching on a random passage in Scripture. In other words, having Jesus’ words fresh in their minds made little to no difference at all. There was only one variable that dramatically changed the response of the students.

Some students were told before they left, “Oh, by the way, you’re late. They were expecting you ten minutes ago.” Others were told, “It will be a few minutes before they are expecting you, but you might as well head over there now.” The students who thought they had plenty of time stopped to help the man 63% of the time.[2] However, the students who thought they were in a rush only stopped to help 10% of the time. The researchers concluded, “Ironically, a person in a hurry is less likely to help people, even if he is going to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Some literally stepped over the victim on their way to the next building!).”[3]

What this means is that one of the biggest barriers to us joining God in fighting injustice and helping those in need really has nothing to do with our good intentions, being in the right mindset, or even having the right information. What likely keeps most of us from helping those in need is our busy lives. When we view it through this lens, maybe all of our extracurricular activities aren’t as harmless as we originally thought. If we aren’t careful, we can spend our entire lives rushing from one activity to the next (even one church activity to the next), and never truly join God in His mission.

This is one reason we fight hard to not have an activity every night of the week at Harris Creek. If we’re always in our church building, then we’re never out in the community encountering people in need. However, that’s only part of the equation. We each—individually and as families—must choose to slow down and intentionally build in unfettered time. When we give God space to speak, we then become aware of the needs around us, and our likelihood to join God in the work He is already doing will dramatically increase.


[1] I first came across this study in Tipping Point (Pg. 163-166) by Malcolm Gladwell.
[2] This still seems pretty low considering all the facts. What were the other 37% thinking?
[3] http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html

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