Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Partnering with civic organizations

Two alumni of my undergrad alma mater recently wrote an article, "It’s Simple: Why We Partner with Civic Organizations to Serve the Community." It's a great example of how churches can partner with the public or nonprofit sector to seek the welfare of the city and to be good neighbors to their community. Here's part of the article:

Attend a community council meeting and you quickly discover what’s important to the people in your county. What some people call “bellyaching” sometimes tells you the most:

“We don’t have enough programs for our kids.”
“The shopping center is run-down and poorly lit. It attracts gang activity.”
“The homeless are tracking through our property to get to the liquor store.”

To address concerns like these, our community council naturally looks to its members, local law enforcement, and a host of civic organizations. While these groups may not be explicitly Christian, they are already engaged in many of the issues that should concern the church.

So, when discussing whether the church should partner with the government to serve its community, our first impulse has been to ask, “Why not?” If civic agencies organize themselves to invest in our kids, shelter the homeless, or care for any of those who have been marginalized, why wouldn’t the church, in the name of Christ, show up to work with them? If government bodies are fed up with the filth or the gangs or the drug abuse, then why wouldn’t we join them, in hopes of realizing true transformation?

Many of these agencies, after all, have already done much of the background work to identify needs and establish relationships; the church can extend its reach rather quickly by serving alongside them. And by doing so, we might help the community renew its confidence in the church as an agent of change. We can demonstrate that we’re not just a bunch of “bellyachers” ourselves, but that we care for our community and want to be part of transforming it.

Working with and through government agencies is also a healthy expression of the church as “the people of God everywhere and all the time,” rather than as an organization that just runs its own Christian programs. Simply put, “being the church” in the community does not require that we invent our own stuff.

Consider this: If the government operates an after-school program at the local recreation center, but most of those staffing the program are from the church, isn’t that the church being the church? Preaching the gospel may not be the program’s objective, but attracting 100 kids for a few hours every day certainly creates space for the gospel. It’s a venue where we can show up with the hands and feet and heart of Christ.

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