By / Jul 15

Looking at some examples might help us envision what a healthy interplay between media and community can look like. While there are many people I could highlight as models of faithful belonging and redemptive publishing, it would be hard to top Frederick Douglass and Dorothy Day. For both of them, reading books and newspapers transformed their lives, introducing them to new communities of discourse and action. Their reading led them to imagine new possibilities for joining with and working among the members of their own places. This membership, in turn, led them to speak publicly on behalf of their communities, challenging others to belong redemptively to their own neighbors and to address the pressing issues of their time. 

Douglass, reading, and abolition

In his autobiography, Douglass describes the arduous process by which he learned to read, first through the good graces of a naive slave mistress, and then by giving poor White boys bread in exchange for lessons. At the age of 12, he read “The Columbian Orator,” a classroom anthology of speeches and poems that includes an imagined dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave made such good arguments for his emancipation that the master granted his manumission. Douglass was, of course, drawn to these arguments: “They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.” As Douglass goes on to explain, he didn’t even know the meaning of the word abolition — much less that there was a whole community of abolitionists agitating for the end of slavery — until he read a newspaper account of abolitionist activities. 

After his reading brought the abolition community to his consciousness and helped him articulate a case for emancipation, Douglass devoted his energies to educating his enslaved friends. Once he had “created in them a strong desire to learn how to read,” he held a Sabbath school and taught any enslaved people who were interested. Their school was eventually discovered and broken up by White masters; these men knew the grave danger that reading posed to the institution of slavery. As Douglass testifies, this learning community provided a rare opportunity for these downtrodden people to behave like “intellectual, moral, and accountable beings.” Eventually, Douglass escaped to the north, but instead of feeling free, he felt terribly lonely and vulnerable. He was particularly grateful for the aid of other free Black persons and abolitionists who helped him find a home in New Bedford. 

This community, and the support it provided for its vulnerable members, motivated Douglass to take a more active role in sustaining it. He describes an incident where a free Black person had a dispute with a fugitive and threatened to betray him; the entire community came together to send the traitor away and protect the fugitive. It is this camaraderie and solidarity that inspired Douglass to move into the public sphere and advocate for the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of free African Americans. He tells of his joy when he was able to pay for a subscription to the Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper. This paper, Douglass attests, “became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire.” And it soon gave him an “idea of the principles, measures, and spirit of the anti-slavery reform.” At the urging of others, he began to speak at churches and abolitionist meetings, and his eloquence and testimony soon made him a popular speaker. 

Community and pointing to the gospel 

Douglass eventually separated himself from Garrison’s paper and speaking circuit and founded his own newspaper, the North Star. In the opening editorial, he situates the paper as a communal endeavor, arguing that the Black community “must be our own representatives and advocates, not exclusively, but peculiarly — not distinct from, but in connection with our white friends.” Thus it will not be committed to an ideology but to a community, which he names as “our long oppressed and plundered fellow countrymen”: “We shall cordially approve every measure and effort calculated to advance your sacred cause, and strenuously oppose any which in our opinion may tend to retard its progress.” Rather than being narrowly antislavery, it will also discuss issues such as “Temperance, Peace, Capital Punishment, Education. . . . While advocating your rights, the North Star will strive to throw light on your duties. [W]hile it will not fail to make known your virtues, it will not shun to discover your faults. To be faithful to our foes it must be faithful to ourselves, in all things.” This language of rights and duties is common in republican discourse, but it emphasizes that Douglass was committed not just to an ideology or an interest group but to the formation of a healthy community. 

Though he disagreed with Garrison about the best political strategy to achieve abolition, Douglass shared Garrison’s religious convictions. One version of the Liberator’s masthead depicts Christ in his role as liberator, proclaiming, “I come to break the bonds of the oppressor.” Similarly, the motto of Douglass’s North Star declares, “Right is of no sex—Truth is of no color—God is the Father of us all, and all we are brethren.” If Douglass belonged to his fellow oppressed countrymen (and women — he was an early supporter of the suffrage movement), he belonged equally to the biblical prophetic tradition. As his biographer David Blight puts it, “Douglass not only used the Hebrew prophets; he joined them.” Douglass consistently “rooted his own story and especially the story of African Americans in the oldest and most powerful stories of the Hebrew prophets.” 

Ultimately, Douglass strove to build a community keyed to the gospel rather than to political trends. He failed at times, getting drawn into heated and sometimes petty political disputes and caring more about wielding political power than about standing as a faithful witness, but the very existence of his papers helped people imagine a community of Christians committed to living out the gospel’s valuation of each person — regardless of their race — as a child of God. Papers like the North Star can help us see those neighbors whom we might otherwise overlook; they can help us imagine ourselves as members of a community that cares about the plight of the enslaved and others who are oppressed and that takes action to participate in God’s ongoing redemptive work. 

Adapted and published with permission from Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News, Chapter eight, “Belonging Outside the Public Sphere.”

By / Jun 10

When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in early 2020, nobody really knew what was coming. Quarantines and lockdowns that were only expected to last a few weeks stretched to months. Events were postponed and then cancelled. Weddings and graduations became rites of passage without an audience. People lost their jobs and businesses. Worst of all, too many people died — and without a public funeral. While all this was happening, church gatherings were restricted or called off altogether.

Getting creative with “community”

But we weren’t made to do any of this alone. God created the world and everything in it in six days, and at the end of each day, God called his creation “good,” and even “very good” when he created humankind. But when God saw that Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, he declared something “not good.” He had designed humankind for community, not isolation; loneliness was not good. So he created community with Eve — and he put a drive within us to seek out that community. 

And so we did. When we couldn’t meet in our regular church buildings or hold our most beloved celebrations like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we had to get a little creative. We wrangled technology like Zoom and FaceTime and social media to reach past restrictions. We recorded services and spliced video clips and reimagined activities and held virtual gatherings. We even went old-school, connecting with each other through snail mail and phone calls (because yes, phones can still actually make calls).

In many ways, this was a welcomed wrangling — more and more churches harnessed technology as a divine catapult, sending the gospel message literally around the world instantaneously. Biblical teaching and preaching reached inside the homes of many who may have never otherwise crossed the threshold of a church building. In our information-at-our-fingertips-age, pandemic or not, we can gather as households and stream solid biblical content from Bible teachers whenever we want. 

Yet, we can’t take all of this in while in New Testament community (Acts 2: 42-47), though the internet tries to offer a semblance of this. Facebook has groups and community pages. Zoom has breakout rooms where small groups can discuss from a distance. Forums and membership-based apps provide a sense of community where people can gather around shared faith. These online relationships can make lockdown life a little easier, but they only offer a shadow of what God has created us for. 

Ultimately, this type of online community isn’t healthy. “Parasocial relationships are a problem because they foster the feeling of friendship and community without the benefits of it,” Chris Martin writes. “The illusion of friendship with people on a social media platform is a hollow form of community often built on conflict and at the expense of real relationships unmediated by a social media platform.”

Something is missing

In a year of social distancing, restricted gatherings, and unprecedented quarantines, we’ve done our best to be together in person as much as possible. Zoom gatherings, streaming platforms, social media, porch drop-offs, drive-by birthday parties, and drive-in church services have been a sort of band-aid. But still, we feel a crucial pull to return to real-live community because we were created for it. Hebrews 3 calls us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’,” and Hebrews 10 teaches us to meet together regularly in order to “stir up one another to love and good works.” Ephesians 4, Titus 2, and James 5 describe life-on-life church community that edifies us as Jesus-followers.

The church was God’s idea, and he created church community for a purpose. Being the body of Christ includes many facets, from hearing the Word proclaimed together to breaking bread with one another. The community of the local church is unique and vital and can’t be replaced by screens. 

The internet can’t give us the warmth of a bonfire shared with friends on a crisp evening. It can’t give us a group of people who’ll help us move that old piano across town (again and again, for free). It can’t give us the joy of celebrating new life by passing around a newborn baby, or bouncing a toddler on our knees. It can’t have us over for dinner, can’t smile or weep, and can’t hug. Only people can do these things—real, living, breathing, incarnate people, which is significant because our Savior came to live among us; he put on flesh, dwelt with us, and experienced what it was like to live in human community (John 1:14). And he gave us a taste of what it our fellowship should look like. 

COVID-19 was incredibly hard, yet maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to our churches. The physical absence of our brothers and sisters accentuated a God-given desire to gather together. And, as a result, we can pray it continues to clarify our need for true biblical community and reinvigorates our love for and commitment to each other.

By / Mar 30

At the very core of who we are exists a deep desire and fundamental need for connection, belonging, and security found only within relationships. This eternal truth can be traced back to the very beginning of time.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26-27).

God’s design for connection

The community between the Father, Son, and Spirit is imprinted on the human soul—we bear the imago Dei, “image of God.” As the creation narrative unfolds, God reflects on his creation of Adam, remarking, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). God’s response to Adam’s solitude is the creation of Eve, Adam’s partner. The height of joy and depth of trust experienced through loving relationships and secure attachment are fundamentally God’s idea and God’s design. 

More than 2,000 years later, we take our place in history longing for connection—remembering this foundational truth and holding onto this eternal hope for ourselves, our neighbors, our communities, and perhaps most importantly for our children. Yes, God created us to be in relationship—at peace with him, with others, and in our hearts. And yet, with the fall of mankind into sin, we now experience the pain of broken relationships and the vulnerability of isolation. This is the painful reality for many of the children Show Hope seeks to serve—children who have been orphaned. 

It is not uncommon for children who come home through adoption and foster care to have had exposure to adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, trauma, loss, and/or neglect. As these children enter our families and our stories intertwine with theirs, tensions may surface. We must ask ourselves, How do we effectively communicate the truth of the gospel—an invitation into a forever relationship with Christ—to our children who may carry attachment injuries and associate belonging and connection with fear?

As scientific research expounds, our understanding of the human brain is only beginning to grasp the fullness and complexities of God’s design. And as only God could design, the human brain is pliable and can be rewired. Developmental psychologist and advocate for children Dr. Karyn Purvis once said, “Our children were harmed in relationship, and they will experience healing through nurturing relationships.” When we step into the journey of caring for children who have been affected by early loss and trauma, an incredible invitation is extended. We have the opportunity to help rewrite the narrative—to help lead our children to places of emotional, physical, and neurological healing by being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Furthermore, by choosing to love children from difficult beginnings, we are afforded a front-row seat as God’s miraculous work unfolds. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the sacredness, beauty, and peace of imago Dei is reimagined and reaffirmed as our children become at home with our love. 

Surely, no one person could do this work alone or without the encouragement and support of a wider community. This is why Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support exists. We understand—as many of you do—that the adoption journey doesn’t end the day a child is welcomed home. Because of the difficult beginnings many of our children have experienced, we must work diligently to help them reimagine home and experience belonging and connection.  

Learn how to build trust and connection with vulnerable children

Families affected by adoption and/or foster care can benefit from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross from the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at TCU, which exists to bring attachment and connection in families. TBRI “is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children.” At its core, TBRI works to promote trust and connection between caregivers and children by addressing physical and emotional needs while also disarming fear-based behavior. 

And, so, while TBRI may be perceived as clinical in nature as it involves the complexities of science, at Show Hope, we believe that at its core, TBRI is an expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, with Michael and Amy Monroe, wrote, 

The longing of the human heart is to connect and belong. We long to connect with our Creator, in whose image we have been made, and by God’s grace such a connection is possible. As relational beings, we also have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human conditions is undoubtedly between a parent and child.

Build a community of support

Another practical step in serving and equipping families and caregivers is launching a support or small group for individuals and parents affected by adoption and/or foster care within your church or faith community. Perhaps you can begin meeting weekly or monthly in prayer, study, and conversation. A great resource to walk through is Created to Connect. This study guide sheds light and goes deeper into the biblical principles that serve as the foundation for the philosophy and interventions detailed in The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross. 

As part of that support or small group, recruit volunteers who can be on-call to help meet the everyday needs of adoptive and/or foster care families. It can be as simple as setting up a meal train for heavy, busy seasons of life or offering childcare for parents to have a night out for reconnecting. The adoption and/or foster care journey is not meant to be traveled alone. As a local church or individuals, we have the opportunity to come alongside children and families in service and support. 

Find hope for the journey

Show Hope’s new Hope for the Journey Conference will premiere on Friday, April 9, with a broadcast period through Mon., May 31. The conference includes training in TBRI, a new teaching component called The Gospel + TBRI, and Practical Perspectives videos featuring the voices of adult adoptees and foster youth alumni as well as adoptive and foster families. The conference targets parents and caregivers meeting the everyday needs of children impacted by adoption and/or foster care, and remains a resource for churches, agencies, and other organizations as they support and equip the families, caregivers, and the communities they serve. It can be a great opportunity to educate volunteers on the needs of children and families affected by adoption and/or foster care. 

Will you join with us in showing up and showing hope?

By / Mar 8

In a recent docu-series entitled Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World, Adam Curtis says, “In the age of the individual, what you felt, what you wanted, and what you dreamed of were going to become the driving force across the world.” Being a Christian in this “age of the individual” can be challenging. Our culture prioritizes self-expression, self-assertion, and the realization of our internal dreams and desires. Often, this vision for living conflicts with the call of our cross-bearing Savior.

Yet Christ has offered us a resource to combat the temptation to exalt our self-fulfillment above all: church membership. According to Jonathan Leeman, church membership is “a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.” God has designed our reconciliation to Him in such a way that it grafts us into a community with others. Our faith journey is a communal project.

By committing to a local expression of God’s Church, we confront the idols of individualism. By faithfully committing to a local church, we are bound and rooted in a received community. While this commitment can be challenging, the practice of church membership counter-culturally forms us as disciples of Christ.

Here are three ways that church membership challenges the individualism of our culture.

  1. Church membership means we can’t choose our community.

By exalting self-fulfillment as a supreme good, individualism communicates that our relationships are contractual, contingent upon their ability to meet our needs. As a result, our social groups are typically chosen, made up of people we intentionally select to associate with.

To paraphrase Harper Lee, you can choose your friends, but you sho’ can’t choose your church family. Church membership binds us to a community that is received rather than chosen. While we can determine the church we join, membership places us in proximity to people we wouldn’t necessarily spend our time with freely. Thus, church membership offers a countercultural experience. 

By committing to a local expression of God’s Church, we confront the idols of individualism.

Chosen relationships are prone to land us with friends who share our experiences, opinions, and affinities. Like the lunch tables in high school, our table fellowship is exclusive to our clique. In contrast, church membership leads us to share the Lord’s Supper with varying age groups, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, and political convictions. If we experience conflict or disagreement with a fellow church member, we are encouraged to pursue reconciliation and bear with one another in love (Col. 3:13). Covenant relationships like these brush up against the conditional view of relationships offered by our individualistic culture.

As people made in the image of a Trinitarian God, covenant community and committed relationships are good for our soul. We are social beings who flourish only while living alongside others through the ups-and-downs of life (Eccl. 4:19-12). The commitments we have to our church family deepen our discipleship by forcing us to de-center our preferences and priorities in community with others.

  1. Church membership means we are rooted rather than detached.

American culture fosters transience. We are encouraged to chase lucrative salaries, comfortable conditions, or adventurous experiences to new locations without being rooted in a community. Each new place exists to give us what we want. As such, we often lack connection to our neighbors or physical community.

Church membership is a resistance against the flighty tendencies our culture encourages. “For people who have been discipled by our society,” notes David Swanson, “to imagine themselves removed from creation, able to move here and there with little thought about the consequences, the decision to prioritize rootedness and presence will not come easily.” Church membership encourages us to build our lives around relationships in our church and take an interest in the community surrounding our congregational meeting place. While this can challenge our deep desires for autonomy and flexibility, it also grants us a rich experience of the body of Christ and forms us towards faithfulness.

A recent study (pre-COVID) reports that more than 3 out of 5 American adults are lonely. In an age of loneliness, church membership opens the door to loving relationships that can combat alienation and offer us a lifeline as we navigate the rocky seasons of life.

In an age of consumerism, rootedness calls us to reject viewing our church and community exclusively by what we can receive from it. We are encouraged to ask questions about how we can contribute to and bless our church family and neighbors (1 John 3:17).

  1. Church membership means we can’t curate the opinions around us.

Technology feeds our individualism. We curate the information, opinions, and ideas that we encounter daily, conveniently selecting our news sources, social media follows, podcasts and commentators. When we disapprove of what we see or hear, we can block or unfollow. And if we miss a spot, our feed picks up the slack by giving us more of what we liked yesterday.

Self-selecting our information consumption is no new phenomenon. Scripture warns against the temptation to exclusively pursue voices that “tickle our ears” (2 Timothy 4:3). Without covenant commitment to a church, we are free to curate a chorus of voices that reaffirm what we already believe. Healthy church membership, then, is a resistance against this deceptive habit, a reminder that we share a common faith and practice with those in our church body. 

But beyond core doctrines, committing to a community means we will often encounter opinions and ideas with which we disagree. Proximity to diverse opinions will often challenge us to reconsider deeply held assumptions. Moreover, we are encouraged to open our lives up to the input of our brothers and sisters (Hebrews 3:13). As such, church membership is a bulwark against the social media silos and internet algorithms that simply reaffirm what we already know and believe. It is countercultural for dissenting voices to coexist. It is even more so for those dissenting voices to love one another as family. Within the church, we are called to precisely that.

Last year, amidst the political tensions our nation experienced, it was jarring and often difficult to share a church with various social and political perspectives. I witnessed outbursts, awkward silences, and tense follow-up conversations as we discussed sensitive issues with one another. Yet, I treasured this experience, as it reflected the unity we have in Christ. While our culture is eager to cut off and defriend one another over tense disagreements, our unity in Christ is strong enough to bear the freight of our dissent.

Practicing church membership

Christ presents us a thrilling alternative to the exclusively conditional, chosen, and curated bonds offered by our society. Challenging our deeply held desires for autonomy and self-exaltation, church membership forms us into more faithful Jesus-followers. Moreover, when we commit to a local church body, we are granted a church family to bear our burdens in an isolated and unstable world. In this “age of the individual,” faithful church membership is one of the most countercultural offers the church has, and an invaluable resource to every Christian.

By / Mar 4

What is the nexus between the topic of the life of the mind and the issue of Christian formation? Brad D. Strawn, Evelyn and Frank Freed Endowed Chair of the Integration of Psychology and Theology (Fuller Theological Seminary), and Warren S. Brown, professor of psychology (Fuller Theological Seminary), seek to answer this question in Enhancing Christian Life. Strawn and Warren argue that through adapting philosopher Andy Clark’s ideas about Supersizing the mind, Christians can embrace their connection with other believers as part of the local church community. Simply put, the Christian is enhanced through the community they are a part of locally. The Christian faith is not primarily a private matter but a communal one. 

The work is broken up into three sections. Section one gives a broad introduction to the issues addressed, mostly dealing with the philosophical problems of memory, the mind, the body, and the soul. The authors argue for a holistic view of the human person, which sees the body, soul, and mind as an inseparable whole. Strawn and Brown argue against René Descartes’s concept of dualism, which treats the body/soul as individual mechanical parts that can be separated and function as individual entities (i.e., a brain in a vat). 

Section two further developed their view of embodiment and holism. In this section, the authors introduce readers to an array of authors and challenges of those who embrace a body/soul dualistic view (40ff). The authors maintain that dualism is rejected by modern neuroscience, philosophy, cognitive science, and many Christian theologians over the history of the church (42). Although the authors do not delve deeply into the reasons for rejection of dualism, they provide some reasons for embracing a view of holism. The primary reasons are that humans are embodied souls and how neuroscience has argued that the body/mind are material parts that are inseparable (45–50). 

Finally, in the last section, the authors argue how the embodied and holistic view of body/mind works out in the Christian life through extension in the local church. The Christian’s spiritual formation is both about individual growth and further enhancement through life in the body of the church.

Holistic nature of the Christian life

Strawn and Brown are right to emphasize the holistic nature of the Christian life. The church is usually referenced in Scripture in the plural form, which means, when God addressed the church, he addressed the whole body of believers rather than simply individuals. The Christian life is not solely about what the individual does or does not do. While individual responsibility is present in Scripture, this does not negate the church’s corporate reality as the body of Christ (i.e., Rev. 2). 

Another strength of this work is its emphasis on embodiment. Much of the current techno-science (i.e., Philip Hefner, Rodney Brooks, Ray Kurzweil, etc.) focuses on the possibility of extending human life and function beyond the present body and its limitations. This view often prioritizes the mind over the body. Much of the anthropology of techno-scientists is based on views of materialism and/or Darwinistic evolution. Thus technological enhancement of the body becomes about escaping death (i.e., immortality) or providing technological upgrades that only a select few may have access to which can lead to a greater disparity throughout our society (i.e., CRISPR gene-editing technology). 

Enhancing Christian Life reminds the believer and the Christian community that life is not merely about the individual but also the congregation. Life is about being bodily present to help the community see the glory and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Especially in Western cultures, there is a desperate need to be reminded that being human and being made in God’s image is about fulfilling the cultural mandate. This means in one’s treatment of themselves and of others, there is a responsibility to promote dignity and value; how one lives matters, what they consume matters, and the products of their work matters. 

Engaging dualism

Strawn and Brown could have engaged with substance dualism in more depth. J.P. Moreland (Talbot School of Theology) has written extensively on this problem (see Body & Soul) and argues dualism has been the historical view of the church. Moreland shows there is nothing in neuroscience, cognitive science, or word studies of the Old and New Testament that entails “dualism is not tenable” as the authors of this work argue (43). At a minimum, the presentation made by Strawn and Brown is a simplistic treatment of a historically enigmatic subject. For example, how does a rejection of the possibility of disembodiment affect the idea of life after death and the future resurrection of the dead? 

Another issue in their work is the integration of the philosophy of Andy Clark into their hermeneutic. Their approach seems to read their premise and philosophy (i.e., Clark) into the Bible rather than back up their claims with detailed biblical exegesis. Criticism aside, this work does bring to light the importance of discussing embodiment and how both philosophy and science are now realizing its importance. While the work claims to be for pastors, students, and laypersons, one should engage the book with discernment. Some of the arguments and presentations of dualism and holism’s philosophical problems potentially misread the existing literature surrounding the body/mind or body/soul issue. 

By / Feb 18

Tim Walker, a pastor in Mississippi, shares about the importance of staying connected to the church body during the coronavirus.

By / Jan 21

Dan Trippie, pastor of Restoration Church in Buffalo, New York, talks about how the pandemic has allowed his church to build good relationships with the community.

By / Nov 17

Here’s the truth about the church and COVID-19: the church never closed. The church has been there each step of the way, being the church: staffing the food drives, studying the Word together over Zoom, sewing the masks, praying for the sick, and worshiping across summer bonfires. The church never stopped this year. Whatever legal battles continue to unfold, no pandemic and no executive order could ever stop the body of Christ from functioning.

But herein lies the paradox: coming together physically in community is one of the most helpful acts a church can do to help the hurting. Unfortunately, in the age of COVID-19, it is this precise behavior that puts people at physical risk. Now we have wildfires, police brutality, separation of child migrants, and a host of other natural and humanitarian disasters to contend with, as well. What is the church to do?

Together, we (Jamie Aten and Kent Annan) have studied disaster psychology and worked in disaster ministry around the globe for the last 15 years. We’ve responded to public health emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak; Hurricanes Katrina, Michael, and Harvey; mass shootings; post-conflict zones in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and refugee crises. 

What makes a difference 

Of this combined three decades of experience, we have found that two key postures make more difference than any other when a church is trying to help disaster survivors. Grounding help in humility and practical presence, even when done remotely, increases a helper’s ability to hear, understand, and meet the needs of the person they are assisting. People tend to feel the most comfort when they feel their needs are perceived accurately and when they feel others care about them. Especially during COVID-19, when we cannot always provide physical presence, it becomes more crucial that we show others we care about what is going on in their lives with a mindset and spirit of humility and practical presence.

People tend to feel the most comfort when they feel their needs are perceived accurately and when they feel others care about them.

With this in mind, we spent the last four years field testing and refining a method for evidence-informed, lay intervention for spiritual and emotional care intervention after a personal, regional, or global disaster. We call it Spiritual First Aid, and at the core of Spiritual First Aid is the BLESS method. The BLESS Method takes the “guesswork” out of disaster spiritual and emotional care and makes humble helping and practical presence more “concrete.” It responds to the five core needs:

  • Belonging Needs
  • Livelihood Needs
  • Emotional Needs
  • Safety Needs
  • Spiritual Needs

Our research suggests that it is important to recognize that these are interconnected. Although only one of these needs is listed as spiritual, all of these needs have a spiritual component.

As each core need is assessed, we encourage churches and leaders to carefully observe (attend) the situation and environment, and explore and prioritize needs through questioning (ask). At a basic level, this is about being quick to listen, and slow to speak. When the primary core unmet needs have been identified, helpers can move into intervention: acting on the unmet needs and repeating the action if warranted or possible.

Resources to help meet needs

Our team at the Humanitarian Disaster Institute has created a library of resources to help churches navigate the challenges of this season at reopeningthechurch.com. We have also created a virtual shelf full of resources for your church at SpiritualFirstAidHub.com. These include the COVID-19 Mental Health Handbook and the Spiritual First Aid Manual, which has step-by-step instructions for identifying and addressing unmet needs from the core categories listed above. 

We also partnered with the ERLC on a special edition of our Preparing Your Church for Coronavirus manual, a step-by-step, research-informed and faith-based planning guide to help churches navigate the challenges of COVID-19.

The good news is that our team’s studies show that taking small steps to practically help others amidst a crisis like COVID-19 can make a big difference. Time and time again our research demonstrates that one way churches help others during difficult times is through spiritual and social support. Moreover, spiritual support and social support helps people find meaning, hope, and comfort in times of crisis. 

Over the past 6 months, HDI has reached over 603 million people and trained 29,620 people around the globe. HDI recently released its 6-month impact report describing how it has helped during the pandemic. 

By / Oct 13

Rolland Slade, the senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, was elected as the first black chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee in June. And he and his church are excellent examples of what it looks like to be a witness for Christ in their community. During the pandemic, they have modeled respectful civic engagement and continued creative ministry. Below, Slade answers a few questions about how his church worked with city leaders to serve their community in a remarkable way. 

You and your church came up with a wonderful way to care for the community? How did you develop this idea? 

We have been hosting a fellowship meal for years on Wednesday evenings as part of our ministry midweek programming. A few years back, the mayor of El Cajon, Mark Lewis (the current mayor is Bill Wells, who is a friend), challenged us to make it more inclusive. So we opened it up to the general community. Previously, it was more of a dinner for members of the church and their families or friends. When we opened it up to the community, we discovered that a good number of the people who were living in homelessness began coming to eat. Several of our members intentionally built relationships with them and learned their stories. From that, we began to hear about people who were falling on hard times and needed shelter.

I also have been serving on the Regional Task Force on the Homeless in San Diego for a number of years. While on the board of directors, I heard and read about tiny homes and villages of homes being set up in other communities around the country. Then I saw an article in our local newspaper about Amikas and their Emergency Sleeping Cabins. They had built a number of them in another community, but they were for display only. We had some land at the church, and I contacted Amikas to discuss building a “display” cabin on our church property. 

As I said in the Baptist Press article last year, “we were using the property to grow tumble weeds.” Building the display cabin would give cities in the east region of San Diego County an opportunity to come by and see what they looked like. Now almost a year later, we are working with the city of El Cajon to build a small village of six cabins.

How will it serve the members of your community?

For the village, we have adopted Amikas’ vision of “San Diego County as a place where every woman and child has a safe place to live.” Amikas’ mission is to prevent women and children, especially veteran women, from being homeless.

What pushback did you encounter, and how did you handle it? 

There was initial pushback. People have seen through the media how some of the encampments in Portland, Seattle, and Oakland have been disastrous. Initially, people thought that what we were proposing to build would be a “come one, come all” type of village. We have taken the time to talk with people and let them know that we are working at developing this project for a specific group of people, for a specific period of time. The goal is to do this right, to cross every “t” and dot every “i.” We want the project to be successful, but we also want it to honor who we serve, God.

Can you tell us about your conversations with your local leaders? 

Local leaders pushed back as well. So, I took the time to call them. I have been serving at Meridian for 16 years. During that time, I have built relationships with the city leaders. They know me as a leader, as a pastor, and importantly, as a friend. We have had conversations through the years. I have been there with them in good times and in times of crisis, so we know each other. I reached out to them via cell phone, not calling their offices and leaving a message. They have my cell numbers, and I have theirs. We don’t abuse the privilege of having each other’s personal numbers.

So, I called them and asked them what their concerns were. They shared their concerns, and I listened. When they finished, I reminded them that they knew who I was and what Meridian has done in the community. The congregation was established in 1957, so we are not “newbies” coming into the community. We have an established history of service and care for the community. I explained that we have a genuine problem with people living in homelessness in the city. Of course they knew that, yet I reminded them that not everyone was on the streets because of drugs, alcohol, or addiction. Some were there because of a crisis in their life or a circumstance that spun out of control. I shared that we wanted to help and that this project was going to be a “Starfish” type project. We may not be able to save everyone, but it will make a difference in the lives of those we are able to help.

I firmly believe that God places us in a community not just to cultivate people in the pews or seats of the worship center, but to be “salt and light” in that community.

Additionally, if we can help six, eight, or 10 people, and another church can help another six, eight, or 10, and another, etc., then we could easily eliminate people living in homelessness in the city. And wouldn’t that be fabulous! They also were of the mindset that we were creating a “come one, come all” type project. Again, I reminded them that we wanted to do this right. We are in this for the long haul of providing a piece of the solution to homelessness.

How would you coach ministry leaders and pastors to talk to their local leaders?

Talk to their local leaders before a crisis. Be there before something happens, and establish a relationship. Recognize them as leaders, and ask them how can you help? Ask how you can pray for them? Ask where they need volunteers? Then follow up with them. Pastors know how lonely leadership can be, so do elected officials. Reach out to them; meet with them just for coffee and have a conversation. Get to know them and love on them as leaders.

How have you been encouraged by your partnership with the local government?

I have been encouraged by our partnership with local government through watching God’s hand on their lives. I have seen people whom I met when they were just beginning their careers rise up to be the people in charge. For example, it’s like the police lieutenant or captain you first meet, get to know, pray for and with, and then watch get promoted to police chief. Or, it’s like the elementary school principal who’s school your congregation blessed one Christmas rising up to become superintendent. I firmly believe that God places us in a community not just to cultivate people in the pews or seats of the worship center, but to be “salt and light” in that community. I have seen the investment of time in people’s lives (discipleship) come back to bless the congregation.

And why is this important for the church’s witness to a watching world? 

This is so important to the watching world because people today—skeptical, self-centered, and hurting—want to know what is in it for you. By blessing the community, specifically its leadership, we are demonstrating the love of God that is so desperately needed right now. It is not about the church being the real deal; people want to know that God is real. We have the opportunity every day to show the world that we are God’s.

How are you counseling other pastors in your area who are frustrated with the COVID-19 regulations?

I am counseling them to not be frustrated by the regulations and to listen, gather information, and make the decisions that are in the best interest of the people God has given them charge over. I’m reminding them that they are under-shepherds, placed by God to care for his people. What they can do is step into their roles with the understanding of what a shepherd has to do to take care of the sheep.

And how have you been helped by SBC organizations as you think through these issues?

The SBC has helped me to understand my role and how to navigate through systems that typically are ministry or clergy friendly. The ERLC, in particular, has been helpful in keeping us informed of issues that relate to our biblical worldview and has assisted us in better understanding the legislative process. That has been specifically helpful in comprehending the local process (city council review, planning commission, city administrative staff, public hearings and approval timeline).

For more with Rolland Slade, listen to this Capitol Conversations podcast

By / Jul 27

The economic effects from COVID-19 will reverberate for many years, and communities of color will feel them most powerfully. The Washington Post reports that 20% of Latinos—the highest reported demographic—were furloughed or laid off during the national quarantine. 

The Post also reports that 6 in 10 African American and Latino households said they didn’t have enough savings to cover three months of living. And while the government swiftly implemented the CARES Act to provide immediate economic assistance to American families and small businesses, even a few thousand dollars—the most a family could receive—doesn’t last long in the face of joblessness. Undocumented immigrants—a group of over 10 million people, according to Pew—were not eligible to receive funds at all.

At a time of intense national crisis, faith-based and secular nonprofits alike are demonstrating their value for those with nowhere else to turn. These entities offer Christians a collective way to care for those in need effectively and well. 

The Path Project

The Path Project, a Georgia nonprofit focused on helping children in low-income communities, wanted to help the families of the children they served and began reaching out to parents with obvious financial needs in the midst of COVID-19. 

“It was such an incredible blessing,” said Angelita Salgado, a single mother of five who received financial assistance from the Path Project, in a phone interview. “It’s hard to understand how someone could give so much and not expect anything in return.” 

Salgado is back to work part-time now, but covering the costs required for a family of six is substantial. In addition to the financial aid, she is grateful to the Path Project for offering her children laptops to finish out the school year with e-learning and providing educational resources and support for her family for the past seven years.

Ninety-five percent of nonprofits worldwide say they were affected negatively by COVID-19, but charities like the Path Project continue to work tirelessly with the resources they do have. Regardless of plunging contributions, nonprofits are less limited than government in their ability to help those locally in need, by raising money for specific needs quickly if necessary. 

Acts Housing

Acts Housing, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched into action as COVID-19 hit the nation, helping clients and community members maintain their homes in the face of job loss and economic stress. 

Angel Reyes, an immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, has been out of work since his job at a catering business was suspended in March. He’s one of multiple families who received financial assistance from Acts in the form of a deferred mortgage payment. 

“I feel a lot more secure, and less stressed, because of the help I’ve received,” said Reyes, who lives with his wife, in a phone interview.

Even those who didn’t lose jobs are suffering from cut hours and economic uncertainty. According to Pew, 40% of Latinos—as opposed to 27% of the American population—were forced to take a pay cut at minimum, and 86% of Latino small business owners report significant negative impact on their businesses by the pandemic.

United Against Poverty

In Florida, where 4.5 million immigrants comprise 21% of the population, United Against Poverty (UAP) has been helping people in need through their emergency food assistance program and Member Share Grocery Center, which allows qualified families to select nutritious food and necessary household items free of charge. 

UAP reports that 58.4% of Florida students normally receive free or reduced meal programs, so their commitment to providing food assistance in the face of forced e-learning and summer break remains high. 

“People everywhere are stressed about being able to purchase groceries for their families,” reads a recent email newsletter, encouraging donors to keep contributions coming. 

UAP also hosts job training courses, a Crisis Care Management program, educational resources, and offers referrals to partner organizations when necessary. 

World Relief

On a larger scale, World Relief has been organizing wide-reaching outreach programs, partnering with churches and local food banks. They are providing legal aid over virtual platforms and helping with translation for information about disease prevention and providing financial aid for immigrant families, specifically those who are undocumented or recently immigrated without a recent tax filing status that would make them eligible for the CARES Act. 

Nonprofits like these offer stability for vulnerable families, even during an unprecedented scenario like the present worldwide pandemic. 

With an unsteady market and personal economic uncertainty, it can be easy to chop regular donations out of one’s budget, but think twice before slashing these kinds of line items. It’s important to remember how we, as Christians, can love our neighbors well through the organizations that are intimately aware of specific community and individual needs. The choices we make today will have long-term effects on families for years to come.