Panel explores role of church in community ministry

December 13, 2006
By Kelly Knox, BSW student

In a fast-changing world where people seem to have more needs than resources, today's church often finds itself at a crossroad of values as old as the gospel message itself. Who exactly is one's neighbor? What if an individual's needs outpace the resources and experience a church can provide?

They are tough questions that congregations often find themselves debating, but the Baylor School of Social Work's Center for Family and Community Ministries is in the process of providing resources to help churches work their way through that discussion. The Center received a $1.1 million grant from Christ Is Our Salvation Inc. private foundation in June 2006 to develop leadership, training and resources materials to strengthen congregational community ministries.

As part of the Center's work, a group of seven congregational, denominational and lay leaders participated in a panel presentation Nov. 3 to the 11 social work students and members of the administrative team of the Congregational Community Ministries project. Students had a chance to ask firsthand how pastors and others wrestle with these questions, what they find works and what doesn't, and what they need from the research and materials under way in the Center and School.

"Too often the mentality of ministry is that it's something we do to those of us inside the church, and mission is something we do to them," said Jim Young, former director of community missions for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dallas. He encouraged the students to help congregations think of those "outside the walls of the church."

The Rev. Marsha Martie, pastor of Waco's Crossties Ecumenical Church, emphasized Young's point. "The church has no walls," she said. "It is that thinking that is the dysfunction of the church. We don't go to church; we are the church."

In addition to Young and Martie, other panelists at the luncheon included: Dorisanne Cooper, pastor of Waco's Lake Shore Baptist Church; Wayne Williams, associate pastor of First Methodist in Waco; Dan Freemyer, director of community ministries in association with Buckner at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth; Ann Garner, a layperson from Waco's Calvary Baptist Church; and Patty Villareal, community ministry director for Buckner Children and Family Services at Baptist University of the Americas, San Antonio.

Several panelists voiced a need for training around areas of social work in their congregations and communities. "We need therapists to come and help people work very deeply through issues of abandonment and shame so that they can even begin to hear that there is Good News--people who are willing to build a bridge," Martie said.

"We need advice and knowledge as to where we can refer people who come to us for help when we're being stretched too thin," Cooper added.

None of the churches represented in the panel has a church social worker on staff, and they agreed it would take time and more education before their congregations would add that position to the annual budget.

"Social work and the church are two different establishments that don't necessarily appreciate one another," Freemyer said. "Whatever particular ministry a church chooses to implement is not as important as the fostering of relationships that comes out of it."

All the panelists expressed a desire to see congregations trained in ministering to the needs of those in their communities. "We need to train every lay person about community ministry. Those lay leaders can then educate the congregation about community ministry," Williams said.

Gaynor Yancey, CFCM associate professor of church and community and co-leader of the Strengthening Congregational Community Ministries project, said she was encouraged by the panel discussion.

"The panel really challenged the CCM team with the importance of concepts," she said. "Without an exception, each of the panelists was clear that each member of a congregation is the church no matter where that congregation is ... in the neighborhood, at home, in school, or at work."

The CCM grant extends through 2009, during which the CCM team will be providing and training interested churches in the use of practical resources for effective community ministry. For more information about the project, call Gaynor Yancey at 254-710-6424.
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