(by Craig Stewart, Director of the Warehouse)
The Warehouse (a Micah Network member based in Cape Town, South Africa) seeks to inspire, equip and connect the church to be a transformed and transformative presence effectively addressing poverty, injustice and division. This is our mission statement and it has been wrestled with and refined over time as we've sought to reflect that which God has placed in our hearts for our role in proclaiming the good news of Jesus in our time and place.
I was approached recently by a friend asking me to tell him what we actually hoped for in churches by saying this? How do we see the role of the church in addressing poverty, injustice and division? Would it be running large development programmes, giving up Alpha in exchange for a justice outreach or moving incarnationally into a poor community?
Firstly, we believe that the church needs to be consciously working at being a hermeneutical community, that is a community that is actively wrestling with the story of scripture, applying scripture in real terms to the time, place and context in which it finds itself. In the Cape Town of 2014 this has to include applying it to our history of injustice, our deepening inequality and the ongoing racism and domination that are part of our landscape. We believe in the formative nature of scripture and seek through our programmes, encounters and relationships to be encouraging this in the churches we deal with.
Then we need to be acting this out in "loving our communities and serving them with a spirit of encouragement" (Bryant Myers). In 1 John 4 we are told that we must love as an expression of God's love for us and that we model God's love for us by loving others before we are loved by them. As churches we should be asking God to inspire us to love our communities well, creatively and abundantly without any expectation of church attendance or reward.
Thirdly, churches are, or should be, places that form holistic practitioners to be present in every sector and corner of society. We should be a source of people, shaped by scripture, who seek to make God's love known, proclaiming God's shalom in the places we find ourselves. Businesspeople, doctors, teachers, politicians, NGO workers etc. - all dismantling strongholds that enable or promote poverty, injustice and division. The church, as an institution, can also take its place in a similar way as a member of civil society working to increase people's access to economic and social power.
Finally, churches should be exercising a ministry of pastoral presence in the midst of struggling, pain and oppression. Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has modelled this over the past few years with Walks of Witness, visiting places of disaster, conflict and poverty. Listening, praying, speaking and declaring to people that they have been seen and heard, they are not forgotten. The church should not run from these places, we should be physically present. This pastoral presence will nurture our prophetic voice where we speak out to those who refuse to see or hear, declaring the justice of God.
What does The Warehouse hope for in a church effectively responding to poverty injustice? Lesslie Newbigin says, "It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind him was not a book or a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community...He committed the entire work of salvation to that community." We see a visible community of people sustained and challenged by scripture, learning to love communities and people well, present in the places of pain and suffering, speaking on behalf of those whose voice is muffled and spending themselves on behalf of the poor. Can you be that church?