The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation by Jim Martin is the book many church leaders and Christ followers have been looking for. In fact, the title alone had me at "hello."
Scripture teaches that God is a God of justice who calls His people to walk in His ways. But what does that look like for the church today? How can churches engage the issue of injustice in a biblical, relevant, effective and sustainable way? Author Jim Martin prescribes two necessary character traits in order to do so: courage and humility. Martin also provides a biblical foundation, practical tools, life experience as a pastor, testimonies to encourage, as well as insight into the work of the International Justice Mission. Interwoven throughout are stories of others following Jesus by taking risks and seeking justice for the good of others who are made in the image of God. I highly recommend this book for every Christian in general and church leaders in particular.
I, admittedly, am not much of a reader. It takes a book that is practical, readable, and truly engaging to get me to continue reading. I was SOLD starting with page one. I have been looking for a book like this! As the Founder of an anti-trafficking organization, we are have partnered with area Churches, encouraging them to engage in the work of Justice. After reading Jim Martins book, The Just Church, I am delighted to have the perfect road map that lays out the steps that ANY church can take.
They are accessible strategies that will help any Church respond to God's call to seek Justice in their own communities. Jim also hits the nail on the head in regards to what ANYONE engaging in the work of Justice MUST do in order to engage safely. So many times it is not what we do but what we DON"T do that creates burn out. He explains the importance of supporters, spotters and "The miracle of rest." He states that "To neglect rest in physical exercise is to invite injury and threaten the sustainability of the exercise program. No neglect rest in our life of faith is a far more serious matter"
I believe this book will be the catalyst that will move churches from well meaning intent to seek justice, to becoming " risk-taking, justice-seeking, disciple-making congregations"!!
In The Just Church, International Justice Mission's (IJM) V.P. of Church Mobilization, Jim Martin, asks (and answers): "Why is it that the glaring global justice issues of our dayÃ¢â¬âissues such as sex trafficking, modern slavery, illegal property seizure and sexual assaultÃ¢â¬âare so seldom addressed in our churches? Why is it that the widows, orphans, aliens, and strangers so often mentioned in the Scriptures are so seldom mentioned (or present) in our churches?"
Martin clearly articulates what it looks like to become a "just church" by underscoring the interrelatedness of justice and discipleship, risk-taking and faith; and, telling how and why the church must engage in the fight against injustice.
Readers are transported to the frontlines through stories of justice system roadblocks, dramatic rescues, church campaigns, and lessons learned. Martin describes a "missional purpose" that produces courageous love, and lays out a three-step strategy to jumpstart any church on their justice journey. The book is filled with creative ideas to spark action, a community assessment tool, diagrams and guidelines, along with provocative questions.
Martin and IJM became experts by embedding themselves on the frontlines. Firsthand experience rescuing victims of violence and oppression takes them to the most dangerous places in the world. But Martin goes beyond the emotional and intellectual knowledge to a deeper level. He presents readers with the cause and effect of injustice to bring understanding of what breaks the heart of God and why we should care.
We see the complexity of sexual exploitation, genocide, forced labor, debt bondage, poverty, and a bevy of other human sufferings. The world's justice systems creak and moan like overburdened battleships. As individuals and societies, we find ourselves in a counterintuitive state of self-absorption and apathy that only fuels the brokenness, adding insult to injury. And, where's the church? The church is right in the middle, yet many argue, not fully awake.
Although the call for justice rings louder than ever, it is in large part, missing a crucial voice: The Church. In our westernized mentality, many have become distracted, dulled, and satisfied with the lesser things. We seek change, but not literal transformation. The church must be awakened and made whole so it can minister that wholeness to a world in desperate need. Its goal must be: "authentic love, holistic rescue and restorative compassion."
We are challenged to "move outside our small worlds," and "actually see and experience the world as it really isÃ¢â¬âinclusive of the suffering and pain that we could easily avoid noticing. In so doing, we will experience the invitation of God to engage the world at its point of need and to be transformed in the process." It's key to move from the "ministry of justice" as a program within a church, to the church ministering justice to the oppressed as part of its spiritual DNA.
Martin says, "As churches, we must approach justice (the attribute of God) and justice ministry (the activity in which we engage) in the same way." The battle is already raging. It's time for the church to effectively engage. The Just Church will challenge and equip any individual or church committed to fighting oppression and injustice!
Three years ago, I was a leader of a home group through a college ministry in Dallas, Texas. We studied to book of Micah, felt very compelled that we were called to engage in the work of justice, found a cause we were passionate about (human trafficking), and tried to get started. What we quickly found is that outrage and indignation would not sustain a justice ministry. Eventually, our efforts fizzled out without any noticeable impact.
I know those members of the small group. They are dear friends of mine. I know their hearts. I know they really desired to engage human trafficking. The reason that project fizzled out had nothing to do with hardened, calloused hearts. It was because we lacked a plan to really engage in the work of justice.
This experience makes Jim Martin's book, The Just Church really exciting for me. In his book, he lays out a plan for the beginnings of a justice ministry in the local church. This plan, if followed, could help put teeth to the tiger of indignation that wells up in any compassionate heart that hears of the injustice people suffer all over the world.
In the first part of the book, Martin lays out the beginnings of what is necessary to engage justice. He lays out principles that would be useful to a believer dealing with any area of discipleship. Perhaps the greatest challenge he issues is to believers is to be willing to Ã¢â¬Ëget into trouble.' So much of our lives can be consumed by small, insignificant problems. In order to grow in our faith, Christians must intentionally seek out situations where they must cry out to God, knowing it is only Him that can save them. These situations bring about Ã¢â¬Ëfailure points' in our faith. Just as muscles must be pushed to the place where they cannot continue to grow, Christians must be brought to places where their faith fails, only to cry out to God, reflect, and experience growth.
Encountering the dark world associated with a justice ministry will inevitably bring about these situations. As we read the countless psalms that show us people surrounded by enemies, crying out to God for deliverance, we should realize that this is the actual lifestyle of countless people in the world. Martin calls on Christians to make their suffering our suffering and then call out to God for deliverance. As we do this, we will find ways to engage and to do so with both courage and humility.
After laying out principles that are required for a church that wishes to engage justice, Martin goes on to display his plan for beginning a justice ministry in a local church. This is a three-fold process: Encounter, Explore and Engage. These three phases are laid out in detail in his book, and Martin wonderfully balances giving enough detail to be helpful to churches and holding back enough to allow the Holy Spirit to guide particular churches to engage justice ministry according to their unique call.
The book closes with several examples of churches that have done extraordinary work in justice ministry. These churches have responded to the call of God in incredible ways, with one church deciding to take the funds from their building campaign and direct them toward an aftercare program. These churches take the book beyond the theoretical to the practical.
This book is a gift to the church. As a pastor, I believe that anyone in church leadership should take the time to deal with the ideas introduced here. If pastors are willing to walk their congregations through this process, I know that the God of justice would respond in powerful ways. May we all have the courage and humility to allow the creator and savior of the world, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to work through us to rid his creation of oppression. To God be the glory.
I would love to say that I couldn't put this book down. That would be a lie. I had to put it down regularly because it challenged me. I had to stop to think about what it said and what that meant for me in my walk as well as for my church. The phrases he uses and examples he gives will not only stick with me, but have changed the way I look at my faith, justice, my church, the Church, and God. (Yes, it really is that good.)
It may seem hard to believe that one book could affect that many areas, but it is true. The process that a church would follow to grow into an impact player in justice is clearly delineated, but not narrowly defined. I truly believe any church of any size in any location can read this book and find a way to move forward on the road to justice ministry.
Jim Martin is very realistic in his timeline and goals along the way. He does not put any unrealistic expectations into the book. He also gives great examples of what a justice ministry will look like at the end of the process. I have already recommended this book to two churches. I plan on buying a copy for my pastor to read.