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 parts 1 and 2.]
- Promote Truth (reverse lies)
Chris Ampadu of Ghana does training with churches across West Africa. He says that the one thing that most hinders development progress in West Africa is fatalism. Because of this, he focuses a key part of his training on helping the church promote truth that will overcome and reverse the lie of fatalism.
Darrow Miller says that if a community and its culture are being shaped by a mental stronghold rather than by Christ and the biblical worldview that comports with reality, we do well to help the local church break this stronghold in their own minds and in the mind of the community.
While other groups and agencies may bring greater knowledge and more expertise in, say, nutrition, or business development, etc., it is the pastor and members of the local church who can best be aware of the underlying ideas (the worldview level assumptions) at work in their community. Those that are true, that comport fully with reality and lead to flourishing as God designed—these, the church is to promote. For example, the idea that God gave us the responsibility to rule over all the earth (all aspects of life). Those ideas that are not true—that are distortions of the truth—are false worldviews that Satan uses to enslave and impoverish individuals and communities. These, the church is to recognize and counter.
Here, we are again speaking of creating the conditions for development—the metaphysical capital, the basic ideas about life on which people build their lives and community.
Every culture is embedded with lies. For example, consider the idea that “we are subject to the gods.” This is the belief that the earth god or mountain god controls everything. Under this belief, the people must appease this god, often and at great cost and sacrifice, including not adapting innovations or new technology that may offend this god.
Another example is the idea that “we are destined to poverty. We are born poor and will die poor. No effort on our part can change our future, so why try?” This makes any change for the better look completely out of reach.
A third example is “we have no resources and cannot do anything by ourselves. We need outsiders to help us.” People who believe this lie are not able to see the many resources God has given them, including their own creativity, resourcefulness, time and energy. Yet, when mobilized, each of these gifts can help them make significant differences in their own lives and communities.
An idea that continues to grow in the West is that all of life is material and natural. There is no actual spiritual realm, no God, no Creator. There is no immaterial soul. Our sense of being, our minds and personalities, are all products of our physical brains and environment. The essence of life is matter. This idea undermines the truth in many ways, especially the truth that all persons are made in the image of God—which is ultimately the basis for universal human dignity, the equal worth and sacredness of every person, and fundamental human rights.
These are just a few examples.
Worldview level truth is fundamental to the sustained and healthy development of an individual, a community, and a nation. It creates the necessary conditions for development. Yet, it is often unseen, overlooked, or dismissed by those who are actively working to address poverty and help a community develop and thrive.
The local church and its members need to grow and excel in knowing and sharing truth at the level of worldview—the level of core ideas about nature, about people, about work, about the spiritual realm. In doing so they will foster development and counter the lies that lead to underdevelopment. Jesus said the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). This includes setting communities and families free from poverty.
The local church and its members are uniquely qualified for this role because they live in the community and have the Spirit of Christ within them to enable them to clearly see and understand the underlying truth and deceptions that shape their community and society. They can promote what is true and counter what is deception.
They also understand that truth and knowledge are not enough, but that there is a need for a change in the heart or human spirit which comes through the Gospel of Christ.
The visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency that wants to strengthen the local church in its role in the development of the community can do so by helping the church discern and promote truth and also counter destructive lies at this fundamental or worldview level.
God’s clear call to the local church is to love and bless others, starting with their neighbors and community. Jesus set the example by serving others. For the local church this means it will not only carry vision and promote worldview level truth for the development of its community—it will also actively participate in this development. Members will not just participate when they are leading but will join and support the good work initiated by others. If the community leaders call for a clean-up day, the church is the first to show up, knowing that God has called them to have dominion over trash in their community and to love and serve their neighbor. If an outside agency offers nutrition training, the church members join in, knowing that God has called them to care for their children and steward their health.
If the visiting church team or outside Christian mission or agency wants to strengthen the local church in its role of helping the community flourish, it can encourage the church to participate in the good work being done by others. An outside group can also model this by participating in and supporting the work of others.
– Dwight Vogt
… to be continued
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.