Ministers and pastors are shepherds to individuals and families across our communities. Research suggests people in a crisis turn first to their congregations and faith leaders. When families are in need, they go to the people of God for peace, comfort and support.
The more connected our ministers and pastors are to local resources and community coalitions, the more support reaches the most vulnerable families and individuals in our communities.
One way congregations can be the hands and feet of Jesus is to partner with nonprofits and community coalitions to walk alongside individuals and families in their communities. This gives ministers a chance, not only to meet the physical needs of community members, but also build a relationship with them to meet emotional and spiritual needs as well.
What is a coalition?
A coalition is a group of community members with shared values who gather to focus on a particular issue, to discuss the root causes of community issues, to study potential solutions and interventions and to share their resources to impact individuals within the community.
A coalition may organize around a particular issue, such as homelessness, youth development, hunger, domestic violence or early childhood education.
These groups bring together passionate community members from a wide variety of places—schools, businesses, service clubs, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement, healthcare centers and congregations.
In addition, these groups sometimes are created in the midst of a crisis for short-term collaboration, such as a natural disaster or public health emergency.
Significance of coalitions
Why are coalitions so important, and why should those in ministry join one?
Coalitions help us learn how to work smarter, not harder. They often accomplish more together than can be accomplished apart. Alone, your congregation cannot solve issues like homelessness in your community. By working together with your local mental health authority, food bank and workforce, a system of care can be created in which families are supported by multiple agencies working together.
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Coalitions help us learn important information about available resources for families and individuals in your congregation. You will know about organizations that do things like feed hungry people, and you will be able to tell your congregation about the social workers your families will meet. This will enrich your pastoral care and be a gift to your congregation.
Coalitions focus on the strengths of your community. Hope is fundamental to the Christian faith. As we pray and seek to see people as God sees them, so should we seek to view our communities as places with strengths and value.
An example in Navarro County
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, local nonprofits in Navarro County got together to form a COVID Crisis Needs Taskforce. Almost every morning, this group met virtually to discuss better ways to serve local individuals and families needing support due to the effects of COVID-19. This group included mainly nonprofit workers and government agencies, such as the local health department, Salvation Army and Compassion Corsicana.
Pastor Steve Martinez was invited from First Baptist Church in Corsicana, where he serves as the associate pastor working with the Spanish-speaking congregation. They provide a free meal to the community once a week, prayer and pastoral counseling.
During the pandemic, they reorganized their services to offer free hot meals multiple times a week to families across the county due to the increased need for school-aged children and families staying at home and out of work.
Through this community taskforce, Martinez learned more about community services, like the work Buckner International and Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services do with families of children under age 6. He got to know the families through the meal distribution, and he connected them to our organization and others who are part of the crisis taskforce.
Through this cross-collaboration, Martinez was able to care for these families on another level. He was able to help take care of their physical, emotional and spiritual needs by partnering with organizations who helped provide rental assistance, food served through their church and parenting skills training to strengthen the emotional well-being of the family.
First Baptist Church in Corsicana also helped to distribute Stay at Home Guides in English and Spanish to hundreds of families struggling at home and in need of guidance to help their children feel safe and connected.
This is only one powerful example of congregations using their shepherding powers to usher families into healing and restoration. When we collaborated to serve these families holistically, the work of the church was maximized to care for and honor these families.
Building a coalition
Wondering how to find a local coalition?
First, talk to congregants who are social workers, leaders in nonprofit organizations, teachers, law enforcement officers or government employees.
If you live in a large community, there probably are several coalitions already organizing efforts around a wide array of issues, such as homelessness, human trafficking, hunger and reintegration after incarceration.
If you live in a small community, there may not be an organized coalition, but the good news is you can start one.
Coalition work proves congregations can work together with community organizations to do the work of God’s kingdom. There is a place for you as a minister, pastor and church member to turn your influence into action. Your voice is needed.
During this time of unprecedented need and brokenness, healing will require collaboration and community-level thinking about how we rebuild and rebound.
Rachel Gillespie is a Truett Seminary and Garland School of Social Work alumna who interned at The Center for Church and Community Impact and now is working at Presbyterian Children’s Homes and Services as program director for the Growing Together Program. The views expressed are those solely of the author.