This month I will graduate from Central Valley School of Ministry, a one-year ministry certificate program that holds lectures in a local church. As part of the Church History course curriculum, students read Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, which identifies six traditions of Christian spirituality, including the Social Justice Tradition. These ancient customs remain relevant and important in our modern world.
Jesus sums up the practice of ‘social justice’ in Matthew 22:37-39, when the Pharisees attempt to trick Him by asking which commandment is greatest. Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (New International Version).
This was a significant moment in biblical history, as Jesus condensed over 600 Jewish commandments into two simple sentences. Not only does He rephrase negative commandments (i.e. “thou shalt not”) into positive ones, but He also establishes that ministry should include everyone. “Your neighbor” refers to far more than just people living in close proximity. “Your neighbor” refers to anyone with whom we interact. And we are to love everyone as much as we love ourselves.
Foster challenges us to embrace this mindset of intentional inclusion in all aspects of daily living. He says, “God calls us to a life of social justice whose circumference embraces 360 degrees: personal, social, institutional. It is a life that receives all peoples: enemies and friends, poor and rich, illiterate and educated, whomever and whomever. It is a life that engages in outward conflict with all social, economic, and civil injustices of society, judging down wickedness and building up the good, the true, and the beautiful.”
As staff, volunteers, or church leaders striving to include everyone in ministry, we are living out the Social Justice Tradition! I believe that the Kingdom of God becomes evident on earth when people desire to serve one another solely for the joy of furthering the faith that esteems all humans as God’s precious children. When churches develop buddy programs for kids with disabilities, we see the Kingdom. When caregivers devote themselves daily to meeting the needs of others, and volunteers use their free time to serve at respite events, we see the Kingdom.
To those who are weary of serving, or feel that your contribution is too small to make a difference – be encouraged. Your efforts do not go unnoticed, and God is greatly pleased with His faithful servants who work to live out the greatest commandments.
Austen Torrence is the Administrative Assistant for the Central California Joni and Friends Area Ministry. She is a graduate of California State University, Fresno, and has worked in the non-profit sector since 2012. In addition, Austen substitute teaches Special Education classes in Fresno Unified School District, and is passionate about working with children affected by disabilities!