Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry

Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry

Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry

Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry

Synopsis

Recent years have seen unprecedented attention to faith-based institutions as agents of social change, spurred in part by cuts in public funding for social services and accompanied by controversy about the separation of church and state. The debate over faith-based initiatives has highlighteda small but growing segment of churches committed to both saving souls and serving society. What distinguishes faith-based from secular activism? How do religious organizations express their religious identity in the context of social services? How do faith-based service providers interpret theconnection between spiritual methodologies and socioeconomic outcomes? How does faith motivate and give meaning to social ministry? Drawing on case studies of fifteen Philadelphia-area Protestant churches with active outreach, Saving Souls, Serving Society seeks to answer these and other pressingquestions surrounding the religious dynamics of social ministry. While church-based programs often look similar to secular ones in terms of goods or services rendered, they may show significant differences in terms of motivations, desired outcomes, and interpretations of meaning. Church-basedprograms also differ from one another in terms of how they relate evangelism to their social outreach agenda. Heidi Rolland Unruh and Ronald J. Sider explore how churches navigate the tension between their spiritual mission and the constraints on evangelism in the context of social services. Theauthors examine the potential contribution of religious dynamics to social outcomes as well as the relationship between mission orientations and social capital. Unruh and Sider introduce a new vocabulary for describing the religious components and spiritual meanings embedded in social action, andprovide a typology of faith-based organizations and programs. Their analysis yields a framework for Protestant mission orientations that makes room for the diverse ways that churches interrelate spiritual witness and social compassion. Based on their observations, the authors offer a constructiveapproach to church-state partnerships and provide a far more objective understanding of faith-based social services than previously available.

Excerpt

The meal was spread on a table at the front of the room at Koinonia Christian Community Church of God in Christ, buffet style: barbecued turkey wings and baked chicken, mixed vegetables, potato salad, rice and gravy, corn bread and white bread, donuts, bananas, and juice. Hungry people deserve a good home-cooked meal, said the wife of pastor Jerome Simmons: "something you would feed to people you invited to your home for dinner." Before the food was served, Rev. Simmons led a brief worship service, in which he shared his dramatic testimony. "I was born again behind a bar, outside where I used to go to get drunk …" He acknowledged that many African Americans like himself feel disenfranchised by American Christianity, but he emphasized, "Jesus is not white!" Closing the service with a prayer, Rev. Simmons invited his listeners to join in a prayer for salvation. As volunteers served the food, Rev. Simmons also stood in line to receive a plate and sat at the table, eating and talking with the other guests. "Come to church on Sunday!" he urged as they left.

The Pre-Work program at Centro Nueva Creación, a nonprofit founded by Nueva Creación Lutheran Church, hired inner-city preteens to work in community service projects. Youth cultivated a garden in an empty lot, helped with the church's summer day camp, maintained the church and community center, painted flowers over graffiti at local playgrounds, and ran a small snack food business. The program taught values such as conflict resolution, integrity, and forgiveness. Participants also learned how to become community advocates. On a field trip, their van got stuck behind a garbage truck in . . .

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