The North Carolina Conference Board of Church & Society seeks to relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the members of our churches and to the persons and structures of the communities and world in which they live. We seek to equip churches, their pastors, and their membership to bring the whole of human life, activities, possessions, use of resources, and community and world relationships into conformity with the will of God.
The work of the Board covers a variety of responsibilities, including providing social education, service, witness, and action on issues confronting the Church consistent with the Social Principles and the policies adopted by the General Conference. The Board also promotes the Peace with Justice program and offers grants to local congregations for program development.
This begs the question, why? The mission of The United Methodist Church is to “Create Disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the World.” The entire biblical narrative and the message of the gospels is focused on deploying the messages from God about peace, love, mercy, compassion, righteous living, and justice. It calls for the creation of a society that reflects these values and practices and Jesus described the features and characteristics of this new “Kingdom of God” here on earth. It starts with personal transformation and draws each Christian to a new relationship with others. These themes call for humanity to love each other and reject the evil intents of humankind to exploit, discriminate, and oppress others.
So what does that mean for Christians and the institution, the United Methodist Church, to embrace the message of this biblical narrative? It means we have to learn how to transform the institution of the church AND transform the world through the church and its members.
(Click on each arrow in the numbered statements to open more information and valuable links.)
1. Create a new understanding of the relationship between your church and your neighborhood
Review this approach to building a new strategy for mission that empowers your congregation to have this new relationship with its neighborhood. It requires a new paradigm of thinking about the main purpose of the church, away from administration to encountering the world.
2. Understand your congregation’s assets, resources, and shortcomings
You need to build the congregation’s capacity to deal with the world and its problems at a local, city, state, and national level. You need to be realistic about what you can deliver, so find out more about the members and their capacity to “be Jesus” in the world, both individually and collectively. This paper asks you to take an honest look at the profile of your congregation.
3. Listen to the needs of your congregation and your community
You need to “hear” the concerns, pain, and joys of both groups by actively engaging in serious conversation with people at every level. Here are several methods you can use to build honest relationships with these communities. These methods help to bring people together to discuss their community needs and empower them to take action.
4. Develop a strategy for societal engagement and advocacy to create that ‘Kingdom of God’
This means moving from simply learning about the needs of people toward actions that help alleviate suffering, promote a more loving and responsive community, create institutions to support communities, and build a just and fair society through the rule of law. This entails advocacy work at numerous levels within your community, city, state, nation, and beyond. The goal needs to go beyond just a charity response to a justice response, which means engaging with elected representative institutions and powers that are empowered to create the conditions under which all societies live.
5. Making your concerns known to the powers and the world
It is critical to expose injustice, oppression, and fear. Jesus did this repeatedly, so one major task is exposing institutional sin and corporate malfeasance in order to produce righteous anger and concern. Providing information requires research and digging. Collecting the data is critical as being accurate and honest will build community trust in your efforts. No approach to deal with injustice works without good data, and that includes stories, lots of them. You can collect stories through Community Listening Sessions, House Meetings, and Issue Forums (see #3 above). Using web resources to research data is the best way to get access to information and see the work of other organizations who do that research. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Now what do you do with this information? It is important to “condition the environment”, by making the public aware of the concerns raised by people. So use the following to expose the issues. Also use social media to spread the data.
6. Engage the powers
Typically this means changing some societal system that is created by some level of government to provide services to society. The problem is that no government structure can deal with every human need. Moreover, because of political ideologies, the systems that are created often lead to oppression, discrimination, prejudice, and economic inequity, so you have the “deal with those powers.” Making the issues public as mentioned in 5 above is critical, but you also need to engage those authorities, elected representatives and others, to get change. This is not done overnight as governments are slow to react and often react to favor corporate or ideological interests. So to get the basics about this in place, consider these approaches as a start.
7. Voting for people who represent your needs and views
Voting for those persons who reflect that Biblical narrative mentioned above, is the core advocacy action everyone can take. Not sure who to vote for? The UMC has created a set of principles that reflect that Biblical Narrative and the values and doctrine of The United Methodist Church. It’s called the Social Principles and we have a useful guide to using the Social Principles to inform your voting decisions.
8. Advocating for improved public education
This is an example of how to create a congregational strategy and resources to advocate for improved public education from within your congregation using ordinary members. This approach, along with using some of the resources mentioned above, is one way to get every congregation member, regardless of their ideological preferences, engaged in something that impacts every family. The North Carolina Conference collaborates with the Western North Carolina Conference in an organization called UMAPS, United Methodist Advocates for Public Education, and it helps congregations with advocating for better public schools.