From the beginning chapters where Jim calls us to step out of our insulated worlds and to get ourselves "into trouble" by stepping out into God's call for Justice, through the clear steps to accomplish that in the second half of the book; I was engaged, encouraged and inspired to dig deeper in the fight against injustice. I walked away with an even deeper conviction that we must take up the call to "Seek Justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Is. 1:17) And best of all, I came away with a plan and a way to actually accomplish that, not just inspiration that will fuel for a while and then die away.
I've been on a journey_ Jim Martin just wrote this book about it. Ok, Jim didn't write this book about me of course. But he takes the reader on a journey that has been mirrored in my life over the past several years. I was called into the fight for justice through a process of Encountering the truth, Exploring how I could help and then Engaging where God called me.
In The Just Church, Jim Martin lays out a foundation for doing this in the local church. He shows how individual congregations can go through these phases of Encountering the truth of the realities of injustice in our world; Exploring a church's resources, your communities needs and the Global opportunities that exist; and finally how to Engage in the areas you have discovered.
Throughout the process Jim highlights the many pitfalls and dangers this road can bring along and gives solid, practical, godly advice for countering then.
For instance, in the Encounter phase it is so easy to become quickly angered at the horrible evil in the world. Our safe view of reality is shattered as we discover the evidence of atrocity around the world and we have a natural desire to rise up, run out and fight back. We are fueled by anger, frustration and outrage. Jim cautions and instructs how to build a more solid foundation than just our "visceral" feelings so we are able withstand the fears, problems and setbacks we are sure to encounter along the way.
I have seen this personally as I present information about trafficking to groups of women every week. Often someone approaches me with fire in her eyes after I'm done, ready to throw her whole self into the fight, only to fall off the radar quickly afterward. She didn't take the time to research, count the cost and build a resolve to continue no matter what. Jim shows how to keep this from happening to your church.
In the Exploration phase he reminds us to stay humble and move from just belief to trust as we take steps in to unknown territory. Jim encourages us as churches to look to what is already out there that we can join in on, and for needs not yet being met. We must take a humble and yet courageous approach as we seek to uplift and support those already in the fight but then take the bold steps in areas still in need.
In the Engage Phase Jim wrestles with the very real sense of fear we each encounter as we step so far beyond our own capacities and capabilities and move into the realm where God uses us for great things. We must confront fear and come up with actions steps to take so we are not overcome by it. He also illuminates that we must be willing to step out in faith and fail_ "_when faith is tested and pushed -especially to the failure point- it can recover stronger and more ready for the next challenge." (p.9)
I highly recommend this book not only for pastors and church leaders, but also for anyone seeking to find God's deeper call on their lives, and to connect with God in a real and deep way they may never have before.
This is exactly the kind of book I've been looking for! While most books on justice present the issue in varying depths and ways, then call for action, they usually lack any practical steps to move from knowledge to application. This book is not like that. Jim Martin, Vice President of Church Mobilization at International Justice Mission, basically assumes you have a foundation of what injustice/justice are, gives a brief refresher course on the issues, and dives in to show you what to do with all that information.
One thing I was not expecting, and really enjoyed, was that this "how-to" didn't even start until more than 100 pages into the book. Instead, Martin starts the book by preparing and encouraging those who desire to engage in the work of justice. He prepares you for the difficulties that are certain to arise when working against such evil forces. Once he ensures that individuals are on solid footing, only then does he move on to teach how to engage a body of believers in the monumental task of restoring justice.
While he cannot give specific action steps, since every church will need to respond in a unique way, with their unique blend of talents and resources, Martin does a beautiful job of outlining the process of making justice a key value and action in your church. This book is truly an amazing handbook for justice ministries, the first of it's kind, to my knowledge! It's written in an easy-to-understand, quick-paced way that gets you excited and seeing the possibilities. I am leaving this book with a renewed passion for justice, and a compass (as Martin calls it) to lead others towards a better world.
A must read for any church leader, but especially those with a passion for justice.
"My faith, my theology, my life experience, simply could not accomodate Marta's story. I wanted to unlearn what I'd just heard--to purge it from my mind. But that was impossible. I racked my brain for some comforting thought, some idea, some theological construct, some passage of Scripture that would quench the fire of emotion raging in my chest. I was uncomfortable with the level of anger I was feeling--rage, even--toward anyone who would destroy the lives of children like the ones in the pictures before me. But at the failure point, there is no such help, no easy answer. The faith I had brought with me to Peru simply failed" (The Just Church, p. 39).
So Jim Martin describes his first up-close encounter with violent injustice. What he describes is remarkably similar to the first time I heard the stories: Stories that begin with someone's dignity being ripped away by someone more powerful and end with the hopeful response of God's people resulting in rescue and rehabilitation.
This book is for gatherings of Christians at any stage of a justice journey who want fuel, wise guidance and even a map to help them along the way. You might be a church member who is simply wondering how issues of injustice relate to your faith. You might be the "social justice" person who is seeking a biblical basis for your concern. You might be a church leader who wants to explore issues of injustice together with others at your church. Or perhaps you've been leading your church to engage injustice for years and are wondering where to go next.
Allow me to briefly describe my background so that you have some idea of the perspective I brought to this book. I've been a supporter of IJM since hearing Gary Haugen, IJM President, speak in 2008. Since then I've attended annual Global Prayer Gatherings and have also participated in many advocacy activities. I've also read most of the books produced by IJM staff. At the same time, I've struggled to appreciate certain aspects of IJM's work and culture. Thus I came to this book assuming that I've heard most of it already, that I'd agree with most of it and feel ambiguous about some of it.
This was not my experience. One of my concerns from early on in my involvement with IJM has been, "isn't this justice stuff something churches should be doing? Why do people have to leave their church and go work for an NGO to do justice in Jesus' name?" After reading The Just Church, I have a new answer: they don't! The book infused me with hope as I realized there is so much more possibility for a church to get involved in the work of justice than I had imagined.
The first half of the book revolves around the interesection of faith, discipleship and justice. Jim describes two character attributes that rarely exist simultaneously but that are both necessary for sustainable justice ministry: courage and humility. We learn how faith grows most readily when we are willing to take risks together. We also learn that engaging in justice work as a church does not require neglecting discipleship; in fact, the work of helping victims and survivors of violent oppression happens to also be fertile ground for discipleship. My own experience agrees with Jim's realization that we have at least as much to gain when we move towards folks much more vulnerable than ourselves as they do.
The second half of the book is devoted to providing a clear path for churches wishing to embark on sustainable, meaningful service to the most vulnerable among us, whether on the other side of the world, within that church's local community, or even within the church itself. A wealth of practical, helpful material is provided along with wise advice informed by years of helping many churches along this journey. Each chapter in the book concludes with questions for reflection that I found very helpful in processing the material and teasing out its relevance for me.
I appreciated the connection Jim drew between justice and discipleship. The fact that justice work just happens to be fertile ground for discipleship is good news both to those who care about discipleship and to those who care about justice. The news should relieve a major hesitation church leaders could have when considering getting involved in bringing justice to the vulnerable.
Having come from a church that had more than its fair share of struggles with our own pride, I also appreciate Jim's challenge early in the book to demonstrate both courage and humility. The two attributes rarely coexist, he says, but both are crucial when embarking on a justice journey. Victims and survivors of violent abuses deserve helpers who are both willing to take risks but also well-prepared, cooperative and open to learning from others.
Finally, anyone interested in making steps towards doing justice work will find the second half of the book and the appendices incredibly practical and helpful. These chapters are filled with wise and practical advice gleaned from years of helping churches through a process of encountering, exploring, and engaging in justice work. Far from a rigid, linear prescription, Jim acknowledges that each church's journey will look different. He is clear, however, about some crucial things he believes need to take place before making important transitions. He also provides concrete examples for those who need help getting started. I will personally benefit from the reading lists and surveys of scripture found in the appendices.
If you're interested in the connections between risk, faith, justice, discipleship and joy, I recommend this book to you. Likewise, if you're wanting to build a biblical foundation for doing justice in Jesus' name, I recommend it to you. If you're part of a church curious about or looking to do something about the great injustice you see abroad or in your own community, I especially recommend it to you.
This book is separated into two sections in my view. The first is about the problem of injustice. The second is about how churches can get organized to do something about it. I found the first section to be both a gripping and gut-wrenching read at the same time. But, it's an important read to get grounded in what injustice looks like in the world. The folks at IJM are on the fore-front of the work against injustice and I appreciate that they paint the picture the picture starkly, without embellishment. The second section gets into the nuts and bolts of how to organize a church to get engaged in the work of justice (and why every church should). It's one of those sections that you hope every church leader reads. There was some commentary about how the pursuit of our Christian faith has become so internally focused - which completely rang true.
For those who want practical steps to take, this book has it. For those who need to be inspired, this book has a strong message of hope. For those who need to have their heart broken, this book will do that as well. Definitely a worthwhile read.