Community development: The gospel’s public works
The old axiom that it’s better to teach a man to fish than
to give him a fish is one of the great principles of missionary work. This
timeworn but often-proven expression is valid for the whole aspect of community
Development is a relatively new venture for Assemblies of
God World Missions. Evangelism and training of pastors have been our front-line
mission, with development historically a secondary means of reaching people.
While evangelism and leadership training remain at the forefront of our
endeavors, we have found development reaches into communities in need and
creates opportunities to serve in Jesus’ name and introduce people to the
Savior. In many countries of the world this is a primary way to penetrate with
the gospel and show the love of Christ in a comprehensive, integrated approach.
We create tools to help people develop not only individual
pursuits of livelihood but also a community outreach, using the local church as
the center of activity. On its own, community development really doesn’t
accomplish much, since the same societal issues that hinder governments —
selfishness, corruption and waste — must still be addressed. But when the
church is at the heart of development, projects move ahead on a moral
foundation that affects people spiritually as well as materially.
To be successful, any development outreach must include the
components of regeneration and redemption. Development alone leads to the same
black hole of self-centered overuse to which so many other programs have
succumbed. Conversely, development established at the heart of the church and
led by a pastor and Christian social workers has long-lasting influence. Such
outreach presents the gospel to people in a concrete way by showing what the
gospel can do in service to the community.
Development requires long-term commitment — in most
cases a lifelong calling. Serving a needy community requires more than a “flash
in the pan” visit. Too many organizations come to a remote area and start
something they can’t finish. This can be worse than not starting at all. It
presents a bad testimony to the community, and the credibility of the whole
process is put in jeopardy. To effectively serve in development requires
consulting with people who have made it their life mission, studying the
measures they have taken and learning from their mistakes.
As with any aspect of the Church’s mission, those involved
in development ministry must be led of the Spirit. To know God is leading the
process and supplying the needs, both in finances and personnel, is just as
important as sensing divine direction while standing behind a pulpit or
teaching a Bible school class.
The gospel by its own principles lifts people out of the
poverty and dire circumstances so many nations of this world suffer. It brings
about disciplines and practices that ensure a development program based not
only on finance but also the moral guidelines necessary for long-term change
and improvement. For example, when a person comes to Christ, money once spent
on drinking, tobacco, gambling or other vices can be invested in the welfare of
the family and community. When individual life changes are multiplied across a
community, the true value of a gospel-based development process becomes clear.
Pervading the entire process is hope. Without hope, it
matters little what short-term help people receive; the door remains open to
corruption and expediency. The gospel’s gift of hope allows people to live in a
manner pleasing to God and beneficial to the community. The hope Jesus Christ
brings to our lives transforms what happens in a community. Whether that hope
comes through help with clean water, education, micro-enterprise financing or
disaster relief, its spiritually transforming reality validates our physical
L. JOHN BUENO
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