Supporting those serving on the margins
From a report by The Centre for Theology & Community
In November 2017, The Centre for Theology & Community published a report which explored how churches can support and equip their members whose work or ministry with those ‘on the margins’ takes place primarily outside of church walls.
It asks how churches can more effectively foster, engage with and learn from what God is doing beyond their own immediate activities and programmes, through the day-to-day lives and callings of their members.
The report identifies four challenges for the Church:
1. Recognising the breadth of local mission
People serving those on the margins do not always feel positively affirmed, supported and released into their calling/ministry by the local churches they are involved in.
2. Looking in the mirror
Working alongside ‘vulnerable’ people often involves having to look in the mirror and see our own issues and vulnerabilities. If this is attended to, then ‘the gift’ can be learning to serve and love others from a healthier place, whilst owning and engaging with our own fragility and need for healing as part of the process.
3. Including those that are different
The research suggests local churches often feel unprepared and ill equipped to embrace those on the margins, and can be experienced as inaccessible by vulnerable people. As a result, people who are walking alongside those on the margins can feel unsupported and isolated in their work.
4. Supporting workers to avoid burnout
Local churches are not always aware of and responsive to the support needs of people who are serving those on the margins, and the dangers of burnout that they are exposed to.
The questions emerging from conversations around these issues are:
"How can local churches broaden their vision to include and embrace the wider work of the Spirit of God in and through all of their members even if it is beyond the church’s own programmes?"
"How can local churches grow in depth, vulnerability and authenticity in order to avoid unhealthy work/ministry practices stemming from unrecognized personal issues and motivations such as co-dependency and ‘rescuing’ mentalities?"
"How might churches become more aware of and better able to dismantle the barriers preventing those who feel ‘different’ or marginalized from
integrating into the church family? How can the whole church community embrace vulnerable people, rather than expecting a few ‘expert’ individuals to make that journey alongside those on the margins in isolation?"
"How can local churches work towards ensuring that individuals have the appropriate levels of support, training and pastoral care in place, in order that their work/ministry with those on the margins might become more sustainable and fruitful in the longer term?"
The report suggests that churches should:
Acknowledge and affirm individuals in who they are and what their calling is within their church community.
Give church members opportunities to share about their work/ministry with the wider church community.
Release individuals from duties and activities within the church that may lead to burnout and blessing them to pursue their particular calling.
Incubate or support the start-up of new ministries and activities initiated by church members in the local community.
Foster a culture of openness about our need for personal healing.
Acknowledge their own brokenness and pursuing personal wholeness.
Offer help/support in this area to others in the church community.
Gain a better understanding of mental health issues.
Encourage more church members to look out for and include vulnerable people who are visiting or part of the church.
Encourage more appropriate small groups in which people can belong.
Make church services feel more accessible and making church accessible throughout the week, not just on Sundays.
Model and encourage inclusive hospitality e.g. families inviting people to join them for meals at home.
Make relevant information and resources available to church members to help them assist and respond to those who are more vulnerable.
Offer training to help more church members to engage appropriately with vulnerable people, taking into account barriers such as language, culture, values etc.
Knowing, affirming and supporting each member of the church in their callings and workplaces.
Teaching and demonstrating that loving those ‘on the margins’ is a core part of us all responding to the Great Commission and learning to love our neighbours together as a church community.
Offer pastoral care and prayer
Train, offer supervision, resources and finance
Be aware of individual needs/preferences
If we can support and learn from the experiences of church members who are walking closely with those on the margins in our local communities, then we believe the whole body can increase in fullness, depth and authenticity as together we learn what it really means to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Download the report here.
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