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Serving Those in Need: A Handbook for Managing Faith-Based Human Services Organizations

Serving Those in Need: A Handbook for Managing Faith-Based Human Services Organizations

by Edward L. Queen II
Given the increased pressures and higher demand on social-service organizations, faith-based providers must find ways to increase their effectiveness while maintaining their religious distinctiveness. Serving Those in Need provides practical answers for those engaged in the delivery of human and social services. The editor and contributors draw from their deep


Given the increased pressures and higher demand on social-service organizations, faith-based providers must find ways to increase their effectiveness while maintaining their religious distinctiveness. Serving Those in Need provides practical answers for those engaged in the delivery of human and social services. The editor and contributors draw from their deep commitment to faith, from a sense that religion plays a powerfully important role in people's lives and in our public life. For those who view service to others as a means of realizing their faith, this book will be tremendously useful.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With government at all levels initiating collaborations with religious organizations, there could hardly be a more timely or useful book for board members and volunteers of faith-based social service providers. This important volume highlights the challenges such providers face and offers specific, useful advice for meeting those challenges while remaining true to the provider's religious mission." (Sheila Suess Kennedy, assistant professor, law and public policy, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis)

"While this book deals primarily with Christian organizations, the principles used by faith-based organizations are essentially the same. Anyone involved with the management or leadership of a Muslim nonprofit organization should read this book." (Shariq A. Siddiqui, director, community development and fundraising, Islamic Society of North America)

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Read an Excerpt

Congregations and Social Ministry --
Preparation and Development

Carl S. Dudley

From the time of Jesus' ministry of teaching, healing, and caring for the poor, the humanitarian concerns of Christians have been embedded in their religious response to people within and beyond the community of believers. In the pervasive religious foundations of the earliest American colonies, the integration of church and state provided for minimal care of the poor, while health care and education found private financing. In the nineteenth century, the responsibilities for health and care of the poor shifted toward voluntary societies and market forces, while education became increasingly supported by the state. In the twentieth century, the responsibility of caring for the poor shifted significantly toward national, state, and local governments, and health care, while remaining private, was subject to numerous government regulations. We are in a fascinating and precarious moment of history when the burdens of health, education, and welfare are not lodged clearly in any institution or agency. Mobilizing congregations for community social ministries must be seen in the context of this complex and confusing historical moment, as they try to sort out the way that faith has moved them to care for others (Jeavons, 1994).

Congregations as Caregivers

Throughout our national history, congregations have served as centers in immigrant communities for education and social welfare in the New World (Warner, 1994). Although the government increasingly assumed responsibility for funding and managing social welfare throughout the twentieth century, Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton increasingly challenged churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to initiate and sustain programs directed toward community social welfare. In the mid-1980s the Lilly Endowment responded with an initiative to encourage Christian churches to become more aggressive agents for social programs in their local communities. This chapter focuses on the findings of that work, emphasizing factors that were most significant for the success (and the failure) of congregationally based social services.

Motives for Ministry

Different congregations explain themselves differently even when they engage in similar acts of compassionate outreach to help people in need and to transform unjust conditions. They may organize and support similar programs, but their explanations are distinctive to the congregation's own character and conditions. Some congregations respond to the needs of families and individuals in their community whom they know personally. Others act from fear, especially of changes in the local neighborhood. Some ministries grow from the efforts of a few committed members who do it alone for a while, and then recruit others to help. Some evolve from programs of evangelism that bring members into personal contact with the community, and the community in contact with their faith.

Taking the Pulse of the Community

Discovering that we care about our neighbors is the first and foundational step toward social ministry. The next is knowing those neighbors. Those who care about their communities must take a hard look at their community together, to try to see the world through the same eyes. Without disciplined study, familiarity binds us to the past and blinds us to new possibilities. Mapping the community-learning and identifying the people and places there-helps congregations connect to the real place. Congregations tend to float without contact to a specific location unless they look carefully and frequently at their specific context. In community study, myths are displaced and real people are discovered; trends are verified and fears are openly discussed. As congregations begin to imagine possible new ministries, they discover allies who share their concerns and resources, which can help make the work successful. (This point is made quite clearly in Chapter Three.)

Invisible People and Intangible Forces

Leaders familiar with their community engage in a more revealing search for those oppressed segments of the population whom familiarity has rendered invisible. The early church gave special attention to "widows and orphans," the biblical symbol of invisible people in every society. Many congregations have been energized to launch a social ministry after discovering the marginal lives of neighbors, especially the poor and elderly-those whom we call the invisible people (a term that is, of course, a measure of our limitations, not theirs). One church member reported that "our invisible folk are the elderly who live in the apartments and homes of our neighborhood, but often they have neither the strength nor financial resources to maintain property. Some participate in community groups, but others are hidden behind drawn drapes and closed doors." Others talk about the homeless, unemployed youth, mental patients who have been mainstreamed, or long-time residents who have lost their jobs and self-respect. Frequently, by the grace of God, recognizing invisible people mobilizes a congregation to help them personally and challenge the schools, hospitals, and other institutions that have failed to help them.

Leadership for Social Ministry

In order to break loose from business as usual, the launch of social ministries demands fresh energy from a new group with a clear mandate (Ammerman and others, 1998). To facilitate congregational ownership of community ministries, we adopted a policy designed to locate and empower lay leadership as the organizational leaders in ministry. We discovered that clergy blessing was essential, and clergy opposition was fatal. Neutrality on the part of clergy led to a long period of precariousness. Every new ministry needed both the pastor's blessing and energetic lay leaders.

Using History Constructively

If we view history as the memory of the congregation that is used to interpret its present and imagine its future, then that past is a powerful tool for mobilizing to strengthen community ministry. Of the many ways to access history, church stories are the most available carriers of communal memory. Sometimes we hear these stories in formal situations, but more likely we share them in conversation, where humorous memories transmit community values and carry lessons that strengthen membership commitments. These stories also surface during decision-making crises, providing models for choices and the energy to seal the choice with action. The stories live through the social network, helping it to select what is authentic to its identity. Sometimes they guide us, like a rudder, through hard times. They confirm a sense of belonging for those who tell them and those who listen (Heilman, 1973).

Expanding Resources

Clergy voiced a common reservation about undertaking new ministries. They were almost unanimous in feeling that the congregation's financial and human resources already were stretched to the maximum. They feared that a new program would push them over the limit. However, as we worked with congregations in developing new social ministries, all-without exception-found far greater resources than they expected within and around them, especially when their programs clearly strengthened individuals and added value to communities. Even small congregations located in poverty-stricken areas found ways to expand their income and tap additional funding, find new workers and redeploy existing volunteers, develop multiple uses for existing space, and locate unused buildings in the community. In the process of observing this, we became convinced that every congregation has the potential physical, financial, human, and spiritual resources to begin community ministries that will succeed when the leadership has the energy and imagination to risk the effort.

Partners as Problems and Potential

Congregations often have surprising difficulties working comfortably with other congregations and with community agencies. Although these relationships are important to expanding the physical, financial, personnel, and spiritual resources of new ministries, they also require a kind of letting go-of sharing the vision, the work, and the public recognition with others. Some resistance comes from inexperience among partners, some from institutional myopia, and some can be traced to ugly memories of past efforts. ethnic and low-income settings. Some of this was attributable to the lack of viable leadership, from either inexperience or stress. More often the problem was a disconnect between the organizational requirements for program ministry and the relational, interpersonal style that characterized racial-ethnic and rural congregations. In these churches we discovered the importance of a "translator," or bridge person, who could traverse both worlds and explain why evaluation might be helpful or demonstrate how to keep financial records. In all the failed racial-ethnic ministries, the loss of this bridge person was determinative. Although the bridge people were not the chairpersons, the projects could not survive without their gift of bicultural translation.

Great Expectations

In a strange combination of political forces that allowed President Clinton to fulfill his campaign promise "to change welfare as we know it," Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. In addition to restructuring the entitlement funding for millions of Americans, the bill includes language that denies states the right to refuse to fund explicitly religious programs that include faith as a major factor in helping move people from welfare to work.

Steps for Beginning

Meet the Author

EDWARD L. QUEEN currently directs the Islamic Society of North America's fellowships in nonprofit management and governance. He previously served as director of the religion and philanthropy project at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy and as a program officer at Lilly Endowment, Inc.

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