Thursday, September 13, 2007

The church and delivery of public services – Part 2 of 2

No. 41, 25 July 2006

by Wilma Gallet

Should churches walk away from delivering programs funded by government? Not necessarily. But the church needs to exercise caution. Some of the ways that the church might be different is in having chaplains who provide pastoral care, counselling or advice; organising church services for clients; and having a set of values posted on the wall.

But while these may set church agencies apart they are simply ‘add-ons’. There is a need to be different at the core. This means to be intentional in ministry and for the staff and those who represent the church to understand what mission is and what underpins it. There are four key elements to ensuring that church welfare stays focused on mission and avoids ‘mission drift’.

1. Clarity of mission and purpose

It is vital for a church or agency to clearly articulate the values by which it operates. Values need to be more than a statement of motivating or rousing words that hang on the wall or preface the annual report. The gospel values of justice, compassion, mercy, hope, respect for human dignity, unconditional love and acceptance, stewardship, humility and servant-hood need to be incorporated into everything the organisation does. They need to underpin the decision making processes, be included in position descriptions, staff appraisals, staff meetings, discussions, documents, brochures, staff training material and tenders.

It is also essential to develop a theology of mission to focus on the scriptural reasons for being involved in certain programs and establish the time to pull out of a particular service delivery. The theology of mission should clearly establish the non-negotiables, and when the theology of mission is breached then the guiding principles should state quite clearly that this is the time to get out.

A theology of mission will also help in the explanation of mission to non-Christian staff. It will demonstrate to them that the raison d’etre of the agency goes beyond a humanistic response to social service provision.

2. Language

It is now commonplace in the corporate sector to hear talk about mission, pastoral care and stewardship. This should be enough to demonstrate to us that the church has something to offer the world of corporate giants. But, in return, does the church compromise too much by taking on the language of business when speaking of a welfare Industry or market? It is important to re-invent the language of scripture and use this not only within the sphere of evangelism but in all aspects of our mission.

Church agencies need to be mindful of the impact of language on behaviour and weave more scriptural principles into its internal and external conversations, using the language of ‘ministry’, ‘servant-hood’, ‘justice’, ‘hope’ and ‘being salt and light’ etc.

3. People

It goes without saying that all agencies should employ people who are professionally competent, but they should also be looking for more than professional competence if they are to make a difference and to be different. The need is to recruit people who feel the mission and who are able to intentionally focus on it.

This means finding people who are prepared to go the extra mile, who will not just develop empathy but who will recognise the image of God that is in every human person. Agencies need staff who will understand the mission of the church in transforming lives and transforming society.

4. Linking to a church community

Another unintended outcome of professional social welfare arms being associated with various denominations is that the members of the church can abrogate their Christian responsibility to care for poor or less fortunate people. Some, in fact, even feel powerless or excluded from opportunities to care or give back within their communities. Churches need to look at a way of linking social service provision - particularly that provided by the larger ‘professional services’ - into local congregations and church communities.


Achieving this means not becoming reliant on the funding dollar; not getting locked in forever; focusing on alleviating social needs through advocacy and service; never compromising the mission of the church; not taking on the government’s ideology; and not buying into partisan politics or specific ideologies. As Jim Wallis says, “God’s politics is never partisan or ideological. But it challenges everything about our politics. God’s politics reminds us of the people our politics always neglects – the poor, the vulnerable, the left behind.” [1]

Finally, we must be intentional about mission and living out the words of Jesus. Tony Campolo recently spoke about evangelical Christians who are concerned about what is happening to poor people in the US. ‘Red-Letter Christians’ (a new name which stems from the fact that the words of Jesus in many versions of the New Testament are printed in red) are affirming that they are committed to living out the words of Jesus, particularly his ‘Humanifesto’ found in Matthew 5 -7.

“In those red letters,” says Campolo, “he calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary American consciousness. Most important, if we take Jesus seriously, we will realize that meeting the needs of the poor is a primary responsibility for his followers. Figuring out just how to relate those radical red letters in the Bible to the complex issues in the modern world will be difficult, but that’s what we’ll try to do.” [2]

Wilma Gallet was founding CEO of The Salvation Army Employment Plus and is completing a Masters in Social Policy. She has a passion to see the church actively and positively involved as a prophetic voice in public debate. This is an edited version of an article published in BriefCace, July 2006. Part 1 appeared in Soundings No. 40. Used by permission.


[1] Jim Wallis, God’s Politics (New York: Harper Collins, 2005) p. xxi.
[2] See Tony Campolo, “What’s a Red-Letter Christian?”, accessed 1 June 2006.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1000 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

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