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Social Capital: Congregations Investing in Their Communities

The local church is critiqued consistently.

Whether arising from within or voiced from without, some of it is deserved. Nevertheless, the positive impact of the local church is overlooked or buried under a mountain of criticism far too often.

This is regrettable but not surprising because negative news about what an individual or group has done wrong often receives more views than positive narratives.

Scandal, intrigue, flaws, failings and mishaps attract attention. Traffic doesn’t slow on the highway to watch a stranger help a stranded motorist change a flat tire while an accident, however minor, quickly turns roads into parking lots.

Inspiring narratives do receive press coverage, yet the daily news, op-eds and social media commentary often focuses on what is wrong and who has done wrong in the world that day.

Critique is necessary, even essential, for improvement and reform. This means there is a need for investigative journalism that holds people and organizations accountable.

Therefore, “What this church leader did” or “What this Christian organization is doing” news stories can expose sinful, unethical practices.

In the same way, the seemingly ubiquitous “Why I left the church” and “What is wrong with the church” commentaries can illuminate previously unrecognized flaws and failings.

Yet critique should be accompanied by a call to repentance and balanced by affirmation of positive actions in order for it to be effective.

As Danny Chisholm, pastor of University Heights Baptist in Springfield, Missouri, wisely advised, criticism “should be tempered with what is right with the church.”

The Hebrew prophets offer guidance in pointing out sin and calling individuals and groups to repent toward a more faithful, fruitful path.

Their critique was united with guidance for right thinking and proper conduct.

While not overflowing in praise, the prophets did more than condemn–an important lesson for those who engage in critical analysis of any person or institution.

Amid the often-justified criticisms and necessary exposés, I believe people frequently overlook the consistent positive impact of local churches–the social capital they bring to their communities.

In order to challenge people of faith to advance the common good, EthicsDaily.com seeks to find the healthy balance between critique and praise.

For example, Robert Parham, our executive editor, has critiqued churches for failing to speak to the ever-growing national debt and also praised congregations for the social capital they bring to their communities.

In the same way, news briefs have reported on the decline in positive views of clergy morality and ethics, and highlighted the ways local churches invested in their communities around the Christmas holidays.

Recognizing the preponderance of negative narratives in daily papers, TV news and social media–including critiques of local churches and their leaders, in particular, and religion, in general–EthicsDaily.com has asked church leaders from across the U.S. to share positive stories.

Over the next few weeks, columns will appear that focus on how Christian congregations are engaging in practical, tangible actions that address needs around them.

You will hear about the social capital these congregations are adding to the communities through initiatives, including:

â— Doug Dortch of Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, about a medical apartment ministry.

â— Barry Howard of First Baptist Pensacola, Florida, about supporting a local elementary school and a partnership with an orphanage in Haiti.

â— Mark Reece of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Mount Airy, North Carolina, about partnering with a local elementary school and a trio of feeding ministries.

â— Bill Ross of First Baptist Church of Marietta, Georgia, about home repair projects to community residents and providing access to clean water in several other nations.

â— Taylor Sandlin of Southland Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas, about their English as a Second Language classes, summer feeding program and partnership with a local elementary school.

â— Keith Herron of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, about their partnership with the local school district.

I hope you will find inspiration through these faith community’s actions and be reminded that, despite their flaws and failings, local churches continue to make a positive difference in their communities and societies both in the U.S. and around the world.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachDawes_Jr.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on local churches bringing social capital to their communities. An article by Doug Dortch, pastor of Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, will appear tomorrow.