Friday, April 15, 2016

Pastoring the Community, pt. 1: Social Justice

We refer to our approach to urban ministry as “pastoring the community”. We did not create the term, and the model was inspired by missionary work done in various parts of Africa. However, it is a model of ministry that God has led us in to, and which we feel is a new paradigm in not only inner-city ministry, but for the Church itself. While what we do is contextualized to the inner-cities of America, any community can be “pastored”. Though God has given us a model, there is not a script to follow. It is certainly guided by principles and values, and the problems are going to be similar in different areas, but the unique situations and individuals of each community will require that the specific solutions differ from place to place.

There are several avenues we can use to explore the concept of pastoring the community. The first avenue we will pursue is “social justice”.

The Google dictionary definition for “social justice” is as follows:
justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

While our views on justice, and the work we do, certainly address some of these areas, we're convinced that God is the source of true justice, and that He is leading His people into manifesting that today. God certainly didn't leave us ignorant when it comes to justice

Zechariah 7:9-10 NASB
“Thus the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”

While that bit of instruction can feel lacking in light of current socio-political concerns such as racism, corporate corruption, ecological disasters, sex trafficking, etc., it is still God's heart on the matter of True Justice, and should not be dismissed. He desires compassion. We ourselves should be sure to not oppress anyone, nor even have evil in our hearts. Our compassion should spring from our hearts and inspire our actions.

Our ministry has been influenced by Isaiah 58, which describes a lifestyle of fasting – daily laying down your life for the sake of the oppressed. It is living in such a way that yokes are not even in your midst. It is not a religious show of piety or devotion, but an authentic giving up of your self to others. This passage is concerned with watching what you speak, providing food, clothing, and shelter, caring for the homeless, oppressed, your laborers, and even your family. Again, it could be dismissed, as it doesn't directly address global concerns. But these are corporate instructions to the people of God, and again, concerned with the content of your heart and how that directs your actions towards others.

One thing God has led us into is the idea of equity, contrasting that with equality. Equality is a term often used concerning social justice. But let's look at equality and equity in this manner: imagine we are all standing outside a building, and we need to get to the third floor. There is a stair case. All are welcome to go up the same staircase, and end on the same landing at the third floor. This is equality – the pathway is open to all and the goal is the same. However, what if you have just broken your foot? Is equality good enough for you? Will you be able to walk up the staircase as easily and freely as everyone else? Certainly not. You require someone to come along side you and help you up the staircase to the third floor. This is equity. Equality is really just advantage for those without any obstacles, those for whom the circumstances were designed to serve. Equality leaves you with these options: begin a slow, painful, and awkward struggle up the stair case, or simply accept that the third floor is not accessible to you.

Jesus manifested equity. He had all rights, privilege, power, and authority. He deserved everything, was entitled to everything, and had the ultimate status. He possessed every advantage imaginable. Yet he set all that aside, and came down to helpless, hurting people, to live among them as one of them. He then became a sacrifice for their sins to reconcile them back to the Father and usher in the Holy Spirit. Even in His saving grace He enacted equity How many sins were you forgiven when you accepted the gracious gift of salvation? 10? 1,000? What about your neighbor? How many sins were they forgiven? 40? 4,000? All of them. God didn't forgive a thousand for you and a thousand for them, letting you deal with the difference. He compensated for everyone's differing abundance of sin and forgave all the same. He didn't come only to the not-so-least of these. He came to the very least of these, to create a way for all of humanity to come to know and live with their Heavenly Father.

As Jesus' disciples, we are called to walk the same way He did. To lay aside our rights, privileges, expectations, demands, desires, and reservations in order to come along side those in need, so that they can receive love and assistance, and come to know their Father in Heaven. This is compassion and justice.

One obstacle to truly understanding justice is our own context. God's justice is as above our ideas of justice as He is above us. Standards of justice are culturally relative. Modern Americans may feel it's unjust to lack access to clean water. However, for millenia, all of humanity had to walk to the nearest water source to retrieve drinkable water, water that would likely not pass most of today's standards. Furthermore, God's sovereignty is far above our understanding of the times. Neither of these, however, lets us off the hook when it comes to compassion or serving the least of these. Despite our context, God's heart is the same.

Even so, this reality can lead some to a frustrated and overwhelmed state. What do we do with the innumerable things we observe and experience that deeply hurt us? We start where Jesus did. Laying down our life, and doing what we see our Father doing. Living obediently. Loving our neighbor. Scripture states 8 times that loving your neighbor is the fulfillment of the Law. That's a good a place as any to start.

Ephesians 2:10 states that God has prepared good works for you to do long before you were born. These prepared works are part of why you exist. They are the good things you were designed to do. These works will minister to this world in ways only God could orchestrate. These could be small and seemingly meaningless, or they could change the course of history. The important thing to realize is that they are only found in God.

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 2 - Urban Renewal

Read Pastoring the Community, Part 3 - Social Entrepreneurship

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