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!