Justice Q I can’t find a decent, affordable place to live where I can find work. Is shelter for all a meaningless, utopian dream or a realistic social goal?
Homelessness, like poverty, is always a concern. Many churches help people find housing as a diaconal ministry, and some sponsor housing projects for special groups like seniors. A growing number also pursue access to safe and affordable housing as a justice issue.
A safe, healthy place to live is essential for human well-being. Research now shows that the cost of ensuring access to housing is less than the health and social costs linked to homelessness. Readers of the Old Testament will not be surprised. When God established a covenant with Israel, it included a guarantee of access to land and a place to call home for everyone. Cities of refuge provided shelter for anyone who was left out.
While no society achieves the goal of housing for all, some do much better than others. Two factors seem to make a big difference. First is public recognition that housing is more than a marketplace commodity. The real estate industry is a vital sector in most economies, but reliance on the marketplace alone will leave some without housing. Second is a housing strategy that brings stakeholders together to work toward the goal of housing for all. Effective plans include a range of options with attention to special needs and various stages of need, such as emergency shelters, transition housing, and affordable places for those with limited resources. They also integrate different types of housing into supportive communities. Christians and churches can help to ensure that such housing strategies are being implemented in their communities. —Kathy Vandergrift teaches Public Ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.
Faith Formation Q We are about to hire our first-ever full time youth ministry “person.” Our council is having quite a debate whether to use the title “youth pastor” or “youth director.” What do you think?
It’s an important debate that can quite easily degenerate when driven by various anxieties. The Heidelberg Catechism beautifully describes how we are all prophets, priests, and kings through the work of Christ (Lord’s Day 12), and that three-fold office encompasses pastoring. “Pastors” pastor people; “directors” direct programs. “Pastor” is a deeper, more true-to-life title.
I wish your council was debating whether or not to use the word “youth” in the title instead. Doesn’t the “senior” pastor also seek to minister to youth through preaching and other means? Won’t this “youth-focused” person be challenging the entire congregation to be more hospitably intergenerational in many different ways? Won’t he or she be equipping parents to be more faith-contagious in their homes? By specifically giving one person a title that narrows that role’s focus to youth, one might unwittingly give the impression that the rest of the leadership and membership are “off the hook” in that area.
I recommend simply using the title “associate pastor.” —Syd Heilema is a professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.
Outreach Q As I’m learning about Eastern and monastic spiritual practices, one thing that strikes me is the consistent place of silence in these approaches. In my own church’s worship gatherings and prayer meetings, I notice how little silence we seem to tolerate. How might we begin to add more contemplative practices in our churches?
A I’m glad to hear of your journey into new faith practices. There are many traditions that offer rich resources for prayer, worship, and entering into God’s presence, both for individual and corporate practice. I recommend that you initially continue to develop your own contemplative prayer practice and expand the resources you draw upon—there is a rich Christian history of silence and contemplation, from the desert fathers to medieval monastics to Thomas Merton and other contemporary figures.
As far as including such practices into the worshiping life of your community, I suggest connecting with your pastor, worship leader, and/or worship committee. Share your own testimony of how space and silence has cultivated a deepening sense of God’s presence, and commend them on what they are presently doing weekly to gather the broader community into God’s presence. You might suggest a time of silent prayer, lectio divina, or meditative chant. Or perhaps a good first step might be a small group or adult Sunday school class that focuses on centering prayer or another contemplative approach. Through it all, allow your own practices to continue to feed you, while recognizing the ways your church is already meaningfully drawing people to God.
—Bryan Berghoef is a church planter starting a new faith community in Washington, D.C., and the author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God.