We are happy to post, in four installments, a paper by our Disciple Nations Alliance colleague, Dwight Vogt, on a subject of vital concern to our readers. Go here to read Dwight’s excellent paper in its entirety.
The Unique Role of the Local Church in Developing a Flourishing Community
This paper is addressed to those who have a heart to bring hope and healing to broken communities and believe that the local church has an important role to play in this endeavor. It is particularly aimed at those who work cross-culturally to alleviate chronic poverty and bring development change to communities.
This paper is written to encourage us to take a step back and ask, “What is the unique strength and role of the local church in helping its community to develop and flourish?” And also, “How can we best equip and support the local church in fulfilling its strategic role?”
[Continued from part 1.]
- Carry Vision
When we think about a local church having a role in the development of its community we typically think in terms of it doing activities. Should it start a day-care program, fill potholes in the road, run an addiction recovery program, or launch a feeding ministry? Next we think about where to obtain the necessary resources for such, especially if the church is poor.
However, there is another critical aspect of development in which the church has an especially unique role to play. This is creating the conditions or climate that will enable the community and its people to thrive and flourish.
The reality is that God loves every community and member. God desires that each develops and flourishes as he intended. As the architect, engineer, giver and sustainer of all aspects of life, God knows exactly how a particular community and its people can best thrive and flourish. It is the local church—the local members of the body of Christ—that are best able to see and understand this reality. Through God’s Spirit, they can have the mind of Christ. They can know God’s vision and see his good purposes for their community and neighbors. At the Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA) we refer to this vision as having a kingdom worldview or biblical worldview.
In the field of international development people speak of having five necessary types of capital for development: Financial capital, natural capital or natural resources, productive capital such as tools and equipment, human capital or people with knowledge, skills, energy, and physical and mental health; and social capital. Social capital refers to the level of trust and good will between people that enables them to cooperate, help one another and engage in efforts that are mutually beneficial and do not just lead to individual gain–particularly individual gain at the expense of another. All of these types of capital are important. However, Darrow Miller in his books LifeWork and Discipling the Nations gives another form of capital that is critical for a community to develop as God intends. This is the “metaphysical capital” of underlying ideas or worldview assumptions. This capital ultimately underpins all of the other forms of capital. It is a society’s assumptions about the spiritual world, the nature of man, the nature of the physical world, good and evil, and the purpose and direction of life.
A healthy worldview—one based on biblical truth (or reality as it really is)—produces productive consequences. It creates the conditions for development. Whereas an unhealthy worldview—one based on a faulty understanding of life—produces destructive consequences and more problems.
In a spirit of humility and not triumphalism, it is the role of the body of Christ in a community to know and bring this vision—this understanding of reality and God’s vision to a community.
This is a unique strength and thus a critical and strategic role for the church.
The church is to carry a vision that champions development at three levels:
- The individual level—an understanding of each person as an image-bearer of God and yet also broken and in need of restoration, and all the implications of these truths. A vision for persons doing what is right and good, working together, living by the golden rule, developing their minds and abilities and using these to better their lives and communities, etc.
- The physical level—an understanding of the first commandment given by God to all mankind in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the creation mandate or development commandment, the command to develop and flourish, to rule over all the earth—all aspects of life. It is a vision to overcome the physical challenges of life, to improve, fix, organize, solve, and produce. A vision that ranges from providing food for children to improving healthcare, from making useful products to building roads. A vision to create beauty in all areas of life.
- The institutional level–a vision for fair and just laws and their enforcement, for well-functioning families, schools, businesses, and government. A vision to create a culture marked by goodness and justice where all persons can develop and contribute.
It is the local body of Christ—be they farmers, business persons, school teachers, day-laborers, pastors, or leaders in the community—that can best see their community through God’s lenses and purposes. They can understand that none of God’s commands are arbitrary but rather are rooted in his wisdom and desire that people flourish spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially. They can best see what it means for God’s kingdom to come, his will to be done, in their own lives and in their community. They are the trustees and stewards of God’s vision for the well-being of their community.
How does the local church carry this vision to their community? Through the lives and vocations of its members who know and experience it in their own lives. The school teacher carries it into the school and the classroom. The farmer carries it to his work in the field and into his conversations with other farmers. The mother carries it into her home and into the market. The artist carries it into the art gallery, the engineer to the drafting table, the architect to his drawing, the policeman to his patrol, and the pastor to his pulpit.
Part of a local church “carrying the vision” is recognizing that it is not to be an isolated or internally focused group of people. It is understanding, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The church is only the church when it exists for others.” This understanding, as Pastor Gary Skinner of Watoto Church in Kampala, Uganda said, “The problems of the city are the problems of the church.”
Therefore, the task of the visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency in helping the local church carry out its unique role in the development of the community is to help this church and its members to first understand and then carry God’s intentions—his vision—into the community through their daily lives and vocations.
– Dwight Vogt
… to be continued
 The list here could go on and on as God’s design for goodness, for thriving and flourishing touches every domain of human existence. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over (all the earth)” [Genesis 1:28 (26) ESV] “He put him (Adam) there (in the garden) to work its ground and to take care of it.” [Genesis 2:15 (NIRV)]
Dwight Vogt serves as the vice president of international programs. Before coming to the DNA, he worked for 27 years at Food for the Hungry, including field-based leadership roles in Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand and Guatemala. Dwight is the author of Footings for Children: Imparting a Biblical Worldview So They Can Thrive. He earned his master’s degree in intercultural studies and missiology from Biola University. He has three adult children and lives with his wife, Deborah, in Phoenix, Arizona.