All church members share one common ministry, which is social in all of its aspects. Thus there is no question as to whether the church will be involved in social ministry; the only questions are why and how. As the social crisis deepens, will our congregations retreat from troubling events into quiet sanctuaries, or will they become "proactive" communities of shalom? By what means can parish ministry be liberated from its private, pious, parochial, psychological box to make a public as well as personal witness, to show global as well as local awareness, to meet human need with good Samaritan love while acting for justice with prophetic boldness?
This book is not another tour of the issues. It is a careful exploration of a whole strategy of parish mission/ministry in response to urgent ethical concerns. A preoccupation with immediate issue analysis and pragmatic action programs to the neglect of basic theory and skills of ministry is one of several bad habits church and society leaders need to overcome.
Many parish leaders, of course, have a different temptation—to ignore vigorous social engagement altogether in preference for a more acceptable ministry. But faithful congregational life depends on participation in the public sufferings of God. My efforts to raise biblical consciousness along this line try to steer clear of both the fog of liberal prooftexting and the swamps of conservative biblicism.
Most of the book explores the comprehensive, congregational nature of whole ministry in society. Chapters 4—9, particularly, specify the dynamic social significance of all the main modes or functions of parish life.
Since nothing informs theory better than does sound practice, I visited clergy and lay leaders in parishes across the country to gain a fresh view of what congregations are doing in society and the problems encountered in developing a whole ministry. These field visits and related reading prepared me to initiate a program of leadership development for social ministry. Here I have gone into more depth than is possible in continuing education events.
To explore the terrain of whole ministry is to exceed the limits of knowledge gained from personal engagement, field interviews, and continuing study. Writing makes things clearer, but there is much more to see. Welcome to practitioners and professors who know more about particular aspects of the subject, and can build on this approach. I hope that these chapters at least point toward a whole public witness to the gospel, and outline a congregational praxis which can orient continuing education/action.
Some of those who informed this whole approach to ministry in society or made helpful editorial suggestions are: Douglas Bartlett, Ned Edwards, William Gibson, Beverly Harrison, Bryce Little, Eunice and Richard Poethig, Harvey Seifert, Gayraud Wilmore. The most detailed discussion occurred with my wife, Karen, whose experience and skill in aspects of social ministry enriched the manuscript at several points, and whose shared commitment lightened the burden of writing.
Thus I dedicate this book:
Who, as a partner in ministry that seeks justice, has taught me new dimensions of mutual love