INTRODUCTION

1

SETTING THE SCENE

The basic issue is to take the churches beyond their usual limit of setting up social programmes which only benefit church members and those on the fringe, (or which serve the whole community as an 'ambulance service' with attendant dangers of paternalism and dependency) to enabling people and organisations outside the church to establish their own initiatives.

These initiatives could become the voluntary organisations that provide welfare services in the way suggested by both main political parties.

 

The scope of community development certainly includes the spiritual, but is far broader and includes everything in the cultural mandate. Community development should include not only the usual welfare (spending) initiatives, but also economic (wealth creating) initiatives and participation in local government. The idea is not utopian, of setting up Christian communities as the Moravians and Pilgrim Fathers did, but to be salt and light in the world, in existing communities.

 

This kind of Christian involvement is not new and there are a wealth of historic examples especially from the evangelical revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries. These are well documented and need only a passing mention here - for example the Methodists' involvement in trade unions, Titus Salt's community development at Saltaire in Bradford, the social legislation of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, and many other Christian initiatives in prison reform, health, education and housing, later taken up by local authorities and leading to the welfare state. Indeed up until about 1970 the role of the voluntary sector, much of it Christian led, was to pioneer new ideas and services which were often taken on board by the welfare state.

 

However the 1970s with the gradual recognition of inner city problems witnessed the welfare state beginning to break down under the increasing burden brought about by rising unemployment and a growing number of elderly people. This was particularly so with the NHS as modern medicine and technology devised more and more treatments, but for which there was insufficient additional funding. It was also discovered that the welfare services were at their weakest where most needed in the inner cities, though it has subsequently been realised that problems are just as bad in the outer council estates, and that rural areas also have problems, though different.

 

At the same time the church began to renew its vision and commitment to the cultural mandate and social justice, without which it had no context and no credibility for the great commission. Signposts along the way were NEAC 77, Built as a City, the Shaftesbury Project, ECUM and the Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle, to name but a few; and today there is a wealth of literature and organisations across the world, on every aspect of Christian involvement in society and culture.

 

With the advent of the enterprise culture, which has continued under New Labour, there is an increasing role for the voluntary sector, not only to take over welfare provisions, but also to help bring about economic regeneration. In fact central government welcomes voluntary agencies as they carry out these tasks more economically than statutory bodies. The role of local authorities is also changing from one of providing services to contracting them out to the private sector, though at the same time initiating customer care to enable user consultation if not empowerment. Churches could have a major role here as they have a value system which puts people first, independent funding and hopefully are representative of people in their area.

 

The task of the churches should be in community development rather than as service providers, enabling others in the community to assess their own needs, work out solutions and make legitimate demands on the local authority and other organisations.

 

The purpose of this paper is to look at the whole biblical basis for community development and the role of churches within it, and to provide an annotated checklist of the basic components involved.

 

For the practical aspect of the local church's role in community development, building on the basic components, and with a more detailed historical context, see the author's MSc. dissertation Development Practice and Churches; The Role of the Local Church in Community Development with Respect to Housing, Oxford Brookes University, 1993, which also has a full bibliography.

 

2

FROM BIBLE TO ACTION

 

 

 

The idea of community development, of enabling communities to be self-determining and to work towards fulfilling their own aspirations, is now widely held, particularly regarding western aid to the Third World, but its application to UK inner cities, indeed any and every community, is not often seen, and even when it is, is often only paid lip service. So there is a need to move from understanding what the Bible says, to actually carrying it out. "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." (Jas. 1v22)

 

But first we need to be assured that "enabling" is not just the latest idea but is fully supported by God's word, and to understand what the Bible means by it. The problem is there are many models of Christian involvement, and even some against it, so it is necessary to look at the Bible's overall teaching and not just to pick out what seems to support a particular theory. It will be seen that the four great themes of Creation, Fall, Redemption and the Kingdom, together with other themes of God's providence, the prophets' calls for social justice, the Law, the Beatitudes, and the Epistles all support the call for involvement - indeed the incarnation itself is God's personal involvement.

 

The example of Nehemiah in community development will then be studied first as it is fully documented in the Bible and shows every step in the process, beginning with the context, Nehemiah's initiative, the resources he used, how he overcame opposition, how the vision spread and involved the whole community, and what the community benefits were. These steps can then be applied to the ministries of Jesus and Paul, to show that they have universal application, and to the development of the church at Ephesus to show the kind of church required to best carry out community development.

 

The example of Nehemiah is also of great interest in that it is applicable to two kinds of situation, not only to the outside aid worker coming in to help a community, but also to the indigenous manager encouraging his staff to carry out a given task. Nehemiah was both.

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