Are You Connecting With Community?

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I originally wrote and posted this piece in February 2014. Since then I have had many conversations with deacons, pastors and others engaged in some type of diaconal ministry with their church and community. It has become increasingly clear to me that it is of utmost importance for deacons and others to continue working on how we relate to and view those "from the community" in which our church is located or the community which we serve.

There is a local television station where I live that uses the phrase Connecting With Community to highlight what and how local organizations and businesses are doing in and for the community. Regardless of what I or anyone else might think about these ads, the phrase, "Connecting With Community",  could serve as a simple guide for how we might do diaconal ministry better or more effectively. Interested? I sure hope so!

First of all, our congregations are either located in or a part of particular Community, neighborhood or parish. If we believe this is where God has called and placed us, then I think it might be helpful to ask ourselves  some questions such as: 1.) How do we see ourselves and our church in relation to the community? 2.) Do we make distinctions in our language and programs that tend to keep us separate and different . . . or 3.) Do we see ourselves and our church as a part and participant in and of the community?  4.) Is it "our" community? Are those who reside here considered our neighbors, friends, and fellow bearers of God's image?  

Secondly, do we see diaconal ministry as something we largely do or work at doing with the community or is it something we primarily do and see ourselves doing to or for the community? From my experience and observations, diaconal ministry is largely something most of us do for or to those in the community. If this is an accurate description, is it because We view ourselves primarliy as the ones that Have the resources, solutions or power that They Need Wouldn't it be better and more like Christ if our paradigm and primary perspective viewed and included our neighbors as equals and equal participants in individual and community betterment and transformation . . . working together extending God's reign in all areas of life? 

Finally, how are we Connecting with our community and neighbors? Do neighbors and community representatives always have to come to us? How are we as deacons engaged and how do we engage members of our congregationin the community? Do we operate on assumptions or preconceived ideas about our neighbors--especially those considered economically or materially poor? Have we gone to our neighbors and asked them about their hopes, wishes, and dreams for their lives and community? Have we asked them what they can or might be able to do or bring to help make some desired changes and improvements come true?

I would like to hear from you now. How are you, your deacons, and/or congregation connecting with community? What has been helpful in this regard?  Have you, your deacons, or perhaps some group within your congregation read or studied any books along this line such as Toxic Charity or When Helping Hurts and, if so, was it helpful? Have you connected with or benefitted from organizations providing training, information, or services (e.g., Communities First, Christian Community Development Association, your local deacons' conference) Are there any trainings available that have been helpful for you or your deacons?  What other resources are available that you think might be helpful?

Let the sharing begin! 

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Hi Jack, I'm very excited that you have taken on this role and am looking forward to your posts!  Boy, how often do I go to someone in need of help assuming that I have the tools they need and that they have nothing to offer...its humbling to consider how often I have done that whether the need is financial, spiritual or something else.  One of the words that comes to mind for me when I read pieces like this is empowerment...people need to be empowered and a lot of that has to do with them being able to see the resources they already have like ideas, minds, bodies etc.  But, when we go to someone in need of help with the assumption that they need us to provide all of these kinds of resources we are only contributing to their problem and the greater problem it is connected to.  Thanks for the post!

Community Builder

Terrence,

Thanks so very much for sharing your experiences and insights with us! In my opinion, you are clearly beginning to view, understand, and connect with your neighbors in a way that is more accurate, helpful, empowering, and most importantly from my perspective more Christlike. If you haven't already done so, I would encourage you to check out some of the resources mentioned in my post as well as throughout this site. I look forward to hearing from you again.

Grace & Peace,

Jack

Community Builder

The Chalmers Center (where the authors of Helping Without Hurting work) has a Faith & Finances training and certification program that is offered once per quarter in various US locations – http://www.chalmers.org/our-work/us-church-training/. I've registered for the August/September session (one month of online preparation and two days in-person in Dayton, OH). I'm looking forward to see how this training will allow me as a deacon to better connect with my community. The following is a brief overview of the program.

 

“Chalmers trains churches and ministries in Faith & Finances, a biblically integrated financial education curriculum designed specifically for low-income people. Through Faith & Finances, churches can train the materially poor in practical money management skills and unpack how our money is part of God’s work in the world. The $350 training package equips you to walk with your low-income neighbors over time, leading to lasting transformation.”

Community Builder

Thanks Terry. I agree that the Chalmers Center is a very good resource for any Christian who cares about and is committed to alleviating poverty. I would also recommend and strongly encourage folks to read and study the book, When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, that grew out of their work for the Chalmers Center. 

Community Builder

I did an urban seminary internship for two years, and have been active in race and community development professionally for 45 years.  I go to an urban church that sits in the middle of a community of high needs, and we have a long standing relationship with John Perkins.   We also have a community house next door where some congregation members live to give expression to our commitment to be the presence of Jesus in the neighborhood.  We have a food pantry, and we are very concerned about the gentrification happening in our parish.   Ive talked with Lupton, and read Toxic Charity, as well as When Helping Hurts.  Ive read the Bible too.  So why is it so very hard for me to give up my old assumptions and paradigms about. helping, and why do I persist in talking the new ABCD lingo while doing things pretty much  the old way?  Why do the old habits and patterns and programs continue to shape my behaviors?   it's like my racial attitudes.  I can talk the talk, but rooting out the old junk in my heart is way harder than root canals.   Here's what 'Ive been thinking about.......   1.  I LOVE my comfort zone.   2.  being a change agent is difficult, lonely, unpopular.  3.  Changing my own behavior is way hard when I'm functioning in a context packed with traditions, opinions, policies, habits, and procedures that are in tension with radical development theory and practice.   4.  Taking neighbors seriously and listening to them and genuinely respecting and nurturing their emerging leadership takes long and demands persistance and tenacity, grace, patience, humility.   I prefer fast and thrilling.   5.  Working with a diverse and heterogeneous population is inefficient.  It's much more efficient to design a program, get it funded, and roll it out.  6.  The task is overwhelming.  Kids are being lost to the streets at a rate that far outpaces anything our little local efforts could possible address.  Even if I made a radical change in my own behavior, I'd still be making barely a dent.   7.   You get my drift.  Can you sort of get a feel for what my New Year's resolution might be?    What if following Jesus more closely outweighed all my wants and opinions?  What a journey I'd be on!   Time for transformation of my mind.  Again.   Pray for it.

 

Community Builder

Karl, thank you for sharing your thoughts and some of the challenges you have faced and continue to face as a seasoned veteran of diaconal work.  I think many of us who have been doing this work for a while definitely get your "drift" and can empathize with you . . . I know I can.

Your comments reminded me that this work of advancing God's reign by transforming lives, communities, and systems is first and foremost God's work and mission (or what my professors at Calvin Seminary referred to as the "Missio Dei" or God's Mission)  It also reminded me that this work is not something that I can or should do or try to do by myself or on my own power. I need to be doing it "with" others, empowered by God's Spirit. I don't know about anyone else, but this is something I find I need to do daily and often throughout the day. 

Any other thoughts or comments?