What will separate Dallas' Justice Revival from some traditional gospel meetings is that along with the focus on evangelism, there will be an emphasis on the engagement of the Body of Christ in issues that impact the lives of our congregations and our communities. What that means is pretty simple: after the celebration of worship, we are committed to going to work!
There are a myriad of such issues, but the two upon which we've settled are education and permanent supportive housing for our homeless citizens.
Education is the great equalizer in our country. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear that more and more of our children are less equal than others. It's easy to see this problem as insurmountable, target poor students and their families for the 'personal responsibility sermon of the week' and tend to our own. But at the end of the day, if we don't commit ourselves to do something, we will all suffer.
In fact we are all suffering...
Here's a more practical reason for churches to become more engaged in public education: kids who drop out of school are costly to all of us; their quality of life is diminished in virtually every way imaginable.
"Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies in Boston, says he has worked on a number of reports in the past that reached similar conclusions. He refers to the problem as "a tragedy for the workforce," and says dropouts fare very poorly in today's labor market:
"And that’s particularly true for men—men’s job opportunities decline considerably. By the time they get past their late 30s, fewer than half hold a job. The lifetime earnings of male dropouts are lower than any time since 1959."
"If you drop out of school today it’s the equivalent of committing economic suicide. There’s just no role for dropouts. Their role is they perpetuate the growth of our jails and prisons. They are far more likely to be in jail or prison than any other group. If you care about your workforce, you would be terribly frightened by these numbers."
These are some of the people who will, almost inevitably, find their way to our churches - it makes sense we find our way to them first!
We are looking for 25 partnership between churches and public schools because we know that churches can do a great deal to address this decline.
They can establish enrichment based after-school programs that do more than help with homework; they can develop programs which help teach the practical application of what is learned during the school day. Churches are in the unique position of working with local schools to help design and implement such programs, on their own or in collaboration with other churches to defray costs or with non-profit organizations;
Churches can help establish mentoring programs for children and their families to help make up for damaged family infrastructure. The unfortunate truth is, that there are some families that are too damaged to talk about the traditional family unit being 'restored'. Yet, that doesn't mean that the the family can't be salvaged, or that more than a measure of health can be achieved. Churches can, through counseling and creative interventions make an impact in countless homes being threatened if not destroyed by addiction, incarceration and poverty. Again, it is what some churches can do on their own, or it is what partnering congregations can do in a collaborative effort.
Churches can also be a body of encouragement and nurture for teachers and school staff. Many good principals I know face tremendous challenges by the demands of central administration and the reality they see everyday. Pastors can be partners with those principals, while at the same time being a resource that helps them to do the best possible job in truly educating our youth.
The same is true in the role churches can play with teachers. What I've learned as I have become older than a number of the teachers I know, is that life doesn't stop for them, in spite of the demands of their profession. Bereavement, illness, financial pressures, expectations from principals, parents and children all weigh heavily on our best educators, old and young.
And of course the politics of education must also be addressed. Churches are impacted by the policies of the school board and the state which shape the minds and provide a future for the young people who attend our congregations and live in their surrounding communities. People of faith, must be equally concerned about the accountability of those who are elected to represent the families of children in public school. In that regard, churches do indeed have the role of advocates for their communities, not with a partisan agenda, but with an agenda for the best resources being made available for all children.
Churches can do much more than this. But they certainly ought to do no less.