With Caring Sunday happening in July it is a good time to stop and think about good works and how best to support our communities.
Positive community development includes those initiatives that focus on outreach not just growing church attendance.
The key purpose of community development work is to bring about social change and justice. The challenge here is where to start. Having a clear sense of mission is not a simple task. Community development takes time, effort and planning and there are some important questions to consider before committing to a plan of action:
Are we asking first what we can do to extend the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)?
How should we respond to the needs of the community within the scope of the priorities of the church?
Are we responding to the needs of the community as they exist in that community, not just as we perceive them?
Are we paying attention to the particularities of the community?
How do we find out what’s being done already?
Do our efforts fit with the purpose of God?
In answering these questions (and undoubtedly there are others) our statements about our mission need not be wordy, but they must reflect sound and practical theology. Our ministries are all different. We all live and work in different communities and understanding the needs of others in the community means starting where they are at, not where we are at.
So if we are going to do what counts in our communities it is critical that we consider these principles:
• Start where the people are;
• Build relationships;
• Introduce new ideas only if they meet identified needs;
• Keep projects realistic;
• Involve as many community people as much possible from the start;
• Encourage interdependent relationships among all those involved;
• Join with what others are doing already rather than start something on your own, eg, many social service agencies will already be working in the community. Don’t start something that just repeats what they are doing.
Of course needs in the community will change and, with them, people’s perception of priorities. It is important to go back to what was agreed and revise your mission if necessary – the best plans lack success because the momentum was lost.
We are looking at what some have called a paradigm shift in mission.In his book Transforming Mission, David Bosch says:
‘The church exists only as an integral part of the entire human community,’ and, citing L G D Baker, ‘As soon as (the church) tries to understand its own life as meaningful in independence from the total human community, it betrays the only purpose which can justify its existence.’
This is very good advice, I believe, in thinking about how we can do what counts.