Let’s say that you and your church go on a mission trip. On that trip, you learn about the inequality of hunger around the world. During your 10-day adventure, you get your hands dirty, you cry tears of sorrow for those living in these conditions and something inside you swells with the righteous indignation of Christ in the face of such deep poverty and despair. The plane lands, you hug your teammates and the normal routine of life hits hard and, though you think about your trip often, very little in terms of concrete action takes place from your comfy home here in Virginia.
Or on a local level: You volunteer in your church’s food pantry. Week after week you give out food to those in need in your community. This is an essential ministry of the church and vital for many. You begin to recognize faces and after a few months you notice that many of your pantry’s clients come over and over again. You begin to get to know them and develop a relationship and can even call some of your neighbors them by name. This is a holy relationship. Yet, you never consider asking why your neighbor is in need to begin with.
Mission is often putting a Band-Aid on a cut. Hear me say this, Band-Aids are needed and important. People who have immediate needs require immediate solutions and the church has always been very good at providing these immediate needs. What the church has struggled with is asking why those needing Band-Aids are getting cut to begin with? This is the difference between mission and advocacy.
What if your congregation, that flew to learn about hunger in Haiti, came home and presented the issue to the church at large? What if your congregation began to research the issue, finding experts on issues in Haiti? What if your church began to go back to the same overseas community every year?
What if your church became passionate enough about the issue of hunger that you began to call for action that leads to change? What if they began to advocate for those affected? What if a group from the church became so passionate that they began to reach out to local government representatives to let them know that people of faith care about this issue? This is the beginning of advocacy.
What if….The person working in the food pantry stepped back and asked why the same people came into their pantry week after week? What if your congregation found out that one of their clients just lost a job and another client is a victim of a slumlord? What could a church do to help meet these needs? Now we are moving from putting Band-Aids on to seeing how the cut happened. This is also the beginning of advocacy.
Advocacy is a process that begins with education, often learned through experience, that leads to action. You cannot advocate for a situation if you do not know it exists. This kind of education comes in all sorts of ways. Sometimes an issue can fall right into your pews without you looking for it or asking for it. Sometimes, it takes more time and effort to find what you are passionate about. All that to say, the way that a church comes to advocacy is often completely different from the way another church comes to it.
Over the next few weeks you are going to hear a lot about advocacy. You will be given a Biblical base for advocacy, written by our Theologian in Residence Art Wright. You will also receive information and hear stories from practitioners in our CBF system already doing this work. You will hear from people and organizations working in rural America to people working in the shadow of the capital building in DC. Advocacy efforts come in all shapes and all sizes. Then in January you will hear a very tangible way that your church can get involved.
I don’t know about you but I am tired of just putting Band-Aids on issues. Though immediate needs must be met, I think it is time for the church to begin stepping back to see the bigger systematic issues that exist and then step in to help correct them. Mission work should lead to life changing work for the communities where we serve. I believe that advocacy is the path to making this happen.