Dear Christ Church,
This week Austin hosted a fantastic regional conference of the Christian Community Development Association; my family was able to attend a little of it yesterday. I’ve been thinking for a while about the relationship between Church, justice, and community development and here’s what I’m noticing: the evangelical church has awakened to the call addressing many justice issues; it has not so much awakened to the call of community development. (I know it’s a false dichotomy, but humor me for a minute.)
Community development is the effort to identify a particular under-resourced neighborhood or zip code and work toward the flourishing of its residents. This means change in dozens of variables: decrease in crime, increase in student performance, beautifying the common spaces, racial reconciliation, increases in neighborhood identity and pride, increased employment, building coalitions among neighborhood stakeholders, advocating housing affordability, partnership among churches, loving neglected and/or abused children, and providing them with exposure and opportunities. When the church does this in the name of Jesus, as salt and light in the city, and proclaims the gospel of salvation and deliverance through Jesus Christ, this is Christian Community Development.
Community development is a radically place-based, long-term and relationship-driven process. And it’s really hard.
That bit about it being place-based is crucial. Community development lays down some geographic parameters and says, “let’s live here and work against all the issues that threaten shalom right here. Let’s do whatever we can to see residents flourish right here.”
Many of the injustices that we care so deeply about (and rightly so) are single-issue focused or de-localized: homelessness, clean water, malaria prevention, orphans, etc.. Jesus invites His Church to do both: battle a single justice issue with single-minded focus, on the one hand, and move into neighborhoods where we seek the shalom of the city through community development, on the other hand. One fine example of Christian community development in our city is Mission Possible, with whom we partner for Church Under the Bridge and discipleship of at-risk youth.
This Sunday we will have a guest interview with Sami DiPasquale, who is doing incredible work in community development in the inner city of El Paso, Texas, where he serves as Executive Director of Ciudad Nueva (a Christ Church supported mission partner).
PS While writing this, my alarm went off to remind me to pray “Jesus, give me this water”. It’s been fun to pray that with many of you daily this week!