What role should the Church play when it comes to the issue of justice?
Opinions abound, but in September’s free book, author Adam L. Gustine explores what the Church can do about justice—while also cultivating community. Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God’s Shalom dives into topics like:
- Hospitality as resistance
- Flourishing and transformation
- Finding common kingdom ground
In this excerpt from Becoming a Just Church, Gustine recalls how God used the food pantry his church opened to draw church “guests” and members deeper into the community together. Gustine uses this story as a lesson in God’s desire for kinship with his children.
Our food ministry was arguably one of the most successful ministries in the history of our church. It was an enormous food pantry. But rather than hand out prepackaged bags of food, the pantry space was arranged like a grocery store, and our neighbors shopped the aisles for food they wanted.
When I first came on staff, I was amazed at the thoughtful way the leaders of this ministry tried to make the experience of getting free food as human as possible. You could argue that the entire system of food pantries is flawed, but I witnessed incredibly compassionate people dedicated to creating a space that was caring, compassionate, and as equitable as possible within the limits of the existing paradigm.
One of the evidences of this was the fact that despite the culture of affluence in our congregation and the relative lack of crisis life situations among our people, folks who first encountered our church through the food pantry increasingly became part of our church. Over time the socioeconomic level of our church changed—for the better—because we were becoming much more stratified across the economic spectrum.
However, as a pastor, this created a problem for me. At the beginning of the food ministry, the decision was made to refer to folks who visited the pantry as guests. Today, we might cringe at that language, but when the ministry was created, it was an attempt to intentionally pivot off of language that turned people into charity cases. In church gatherings, we regularly told stories of our “guests” and the way God was at work in this ministry.
But now these guests were increasingly joining our church. They were sitting next to me in the pew. For a while, I didn’t recognize what I was doing, continuing to call these folks “guests.” But over time, I recognized that we had a relational barrier in the church, and I was actively reinforcing it. We had food pantry “guests” and “regular” folks in the same room on Sunday morning trying to be a single community. It felt like a gut punch when I thought about what it must feel like to be called a “guest” in the church you call home.
There was no we here. There was us and them.
It was an unnatural kind of community that had unintentionally—and with good motivations—erected walls that prevented mutuality and friendship between those providing a service and those receiving it.
We wanted to be a family but were working against ourselves. We were missing an incredible opportunity—the chance to recover an experience of transforming kinship.
God has always been at work drawing a community deeper into his shalom community. God (Father, Son, and Spirit), a people (but deeper than that even), a family. God is an expression of eternal, unshakeable, incorruptible kinship.
It is amazing to me that God would desire to share that kinship with us, and that the purpose of the creative work of God is to give us a taste of the kinship God has feasted on throughout eternity. That the redemptive work of God—the reformation of a people—would be toward the end of overcoming the sin and brokenness that corrupted and incapacitated our participation in the kinship of God leaves me awestruck. God is renewing and restoring us, a refashioning of our person and of God’s people, into a community fit for the shalom community of God.
This post is adapted from Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God’s Shalom by Adam L. Gustine, available now as September’s Free Book of the Month.
While you are grabbing your free copy of Becoming a Just Church, don’t forget to check out our other featured books, all $4.99 this month only!