“If I were to guess…there’s simply not much compelling evidence that churches in the last 50 years are all that interested in social impact,” Dean said.
Churches do a lot to alleviate local suffering, Dean said, but she has come to realize that “it’s the government and economic policies, not the gospel, that have been responsible for the planet’s most dramatic improvements in the people’s quality of life.”
–Kenda Creasy Dean,
professor at Princeton Theological Seminary
Okay, so I don’t think this is entirely true. I’m more optimistic about the impact of churches on human development and welfare over the past half-century, and the potential for the future. But, Dean (who I take as an ally/advocate for churches given her teaching an intriguing class called “Church as Social Venture”) makes a solid point about the tendency to focus on directly alleviating local suffering vs. more systematic efforts.
How well do churches, especially Catholic parishes, and nonprofit organizations or other social ventures work together? Mike Baughman asks these questions [Note: terminology is United Methodist Church perspective]:
What if the church and the social venture world built a “wetland”? Social entrepreneurs are a thriving community of world changers who are interested in converting profits and industry into love.
The church shares with them a common mission: the transformation of the world. And though we may not be as effective at transforming the world as we once were, we have the very things that most social ventures need: property, people, funding and a narrative of servanthood.
What would happen if we swallowed our pride and asked for help?
What would happen if churches and denominations invested in social venture startups rather than more staff members to prop up our over-programmed congregations?
What could it be like if bishops and district superintendents were free to spend less time on institutional management and more time mobilizing congregations to partner with change agents in our districts, annual conferences and countries?
What if our seminaries trained pastors in the art of community organizing and sustainable investment practices?
What if we came together to create a new “wetland,” giving new life to the world?
Building off of yesterday’s post on Transformative Scale and Catholic Social Ministry, maybe more partnership is a way to distribute through “existing platforms” or effectively recruit/train others to build or deliver a solution.
Reflecting on Baughman’s list also points to the wonderful theology of the laity present in Catholic teaching. I don’t think bishops or priest-pastors need to be the ones oriented towards mobilizing, partnership at conferences/countries, community organizing, sustainable investment, etc. This year’s (currently running) Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is a great example of the scale of vocation of the lay apostolate through “activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel”–a uniquely different vocation than the ordained priesthood’s emphasis on enabling this lay apostolate (to roughly summarize an entirely separate discussion on the vocation of the priesthood) (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, §2).
The New Evangelization involves new methods and ardor for proclaiming the Gospel. Maybe partnership in the area of social ministry is yet another way to share witness to truth while directly forming relationships with those outside of the Church or far from the Church, all while furthering the spread of the Good News to every sphere of human life.