Social Justice and our church mission

Social Justice and our church mission

On second week of April, our church lay leader, Micheal Pope, and I attended a workshop, “Faiths Programs and Community Needs: Making the Critical Safety Net Connection” in Oakland. The questions that we asked was this: How can we be sure that our faith-based programs match the needs of people we serve?” There were special guest panelists: Shirley Pounds (City Team Ministries); Jean Cooper (Glide Memorial UMC); Ryan Boyle (Goodwill Industries) and the Rev. J. Alfred Smith, Jr. (Allen Temple Baptist Church). We discussed the process of building programs that reflect essential community services.

Safety net programs are the programs that provide basic foods, clothes, and shelters. They are basically responsibilities of individuals in our society. However, when some individuals cannot meet their basic needs with whatever reasons community members step up to help them as well as the federal and local governments. Faith-based communities are doing excellent jobs in that area but we want to do better job.

I believe in the power that ordinary people have. We have flaws and we are not perfect. However, we can make differences in the world with all the weaknesses that we have! The panelists in the workshop confirmed my belief.

The “Goodwill Industries” focuses on “hand-up” not a “hand out” programs. They emphasize “education” and “transition.” They provides jobs and work force development services including job readiness training, placement services, work based learning programs, and job coaching. For example, they have Bay View Hope Transportation Academy (hands on truck driving institution), ReCompute (computer training program), Digital Literacy Training (paid internship), IT training course, Back on Track (partner with district attorney office for the 18-30 years old first time non-violent drug offenders job training program), One Stop Career Link Center, and GED prep course. They are good at working with government, community agencies, community businesses, and other agencies.

On the other hand, City Team was good at combining their “direct services” with “evangelism.” They have Saturday food delivery and clothes washing program and medical care program. When they do those services, they try to inspire people to have hope in the word of God. So they have small group Bible study. They also have residential recovery program based on the 12 steps of the AA group. They also have education programs like reading comprehension and logical thinking classes who lost their thinking ability through alcohol and drug abuse. Many of them could pass the high school level test and got into the career training. They also have volunteer attorney services that help the legal issues of the homeless people. When they deliver bag lunches to the single room residents they listened to their stories and experience life transforming moments.

Glide Memorial UMC focuses more on “direct services.” They started their mission by giving out meals to the hungry. They give meals to the 85,000 people with the half million budget yearly. Because they just give out meals they do not have track record to evaluate their services and that makes them hard to get government or local aids. Most of the recipients (85%) were men from the jail. Now they attempted to change their work from serving people to set up systems to serve them. They also started Women’s programs to help women how to break the cycle of the violence and how to have safe sex. This program change the make-up of the clients and now 45 % of the recipients are women. They started with warm heart but now struggle with the question, how to serve them better. For example, they simply handed out meals that people like. Now they found out that there are many people who suffer from all kinds of diseases from high blood pressure to diabetics. So, they try to add cold heads to their warm hearts.

Allen Temple Baptist Church has “church programs” that serve people in the community. The pastor explains his belief in social justice and his church programs. However, many of his church programs grow into 501(c) non-profit institutions and became independent. For example, health and social services, housing and economic development cooperation, leadership institute, family life center, Spanish speaking ministry, Emergency services, Job center, Anger Management Center, Prison Ministry, HIV services, and Vocational Training Center are independent programs with the church affiliation.

So, we have heard models of direct services only (Glide Memorial UMC), direct services with evangelism (City Team), Church affiliated services (Allen Temple), and educational and career focus transitional services (Good Will Industries). What would be our church model for social justice and community service? If I use a hospital analogy, some sounds like hospice program, some are more like Intensive Care program, and some are like outpatient programs.

When I reflect on our church, our church is more like a family doctor. Our church focuses on Worship, Small group (Bible study, evangelism and fellowship), and mission. However, our mission is in partnership with other independent agencies. There are groups who come to our campus: AA, FA, NA, Pre-School Coop, Boy Scout, and TAX AID. Also our church members are active volunteers in Habitat for Humanity, Winter Nights Homeless program, Homeless shelters in local area, volunteers for the Concord High School, Meals on Wheels, and Silver ministries.

Even though we do not have many “direct services” like Glide Memorial UMC, and even though our social services are not as diverse as Allen Temple, we do participate in local social services through our offerings and volunteer works. Without the help and participation of small churches and local faith communities, those great agencies and social services cannot serve the people in need.

God willing, we can expand our direct services. If some of our church members are inspired to do new social services, we can do it. We can also figure out creative ideas to combine direct services with evangelism as City Team does. However, as a pastor, I want to say first thank you to all of our church members who faithfully participate in all these social justice ministries in one way or another. I also encourage all of you to continue this wonderful ministry in the way that you can participate. Let us be faithful to the call that we are called. God be with us and we will reap abundant harvest!

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About biblepreacher

United Methodist Church Pastor. My wife, Hysung Hong Lee, is also a UMC pastor and my children are all grown and have their independent life. We have now empty nest. I and my wife are collecting some mission eggs now in that nest!
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