One of the scholars I've leaned on heavily in my urban ministry studies and work has been Samuel Wells, particularly his books Living Without Enemies: Being Present in the Midst of Violence, Incarnational Mission and Incarnational Ministry. In them, he talks about the difference between being with v. being for someone or something.
In my mind, another way to look at it is differentiating between empowerment and charity. Empowerment is about coming alongside someone (at their request or with their consent) and supporting them in whatever way is appropriate. It may mean helping them identity and cultivate their own internal resources. Charity, on the other hand, stems from a power differentiation. Someone with means is giving to someone in need. Giving charitably does not create social equality; rather, it reinforces the power dynamic.
That's not to say that charity isn't needed in critical situations, but I wonder if, in general, the act of giving is more about the agenda of the giver and not truly the advancement of the one or the organization receiving it.
My sermon reflection last week focused on "The Great Commission." What does it mean for a church's call to be about making disciples in our Silicon Valley culture and context? What does outreach to one's peers look like? What about giving to those in need? How is "being with" or simply being present a form of evangelism? Note that Jesus says he will be with us always. The very reality of his incarnation also speaks to "being with."
As we think and strategize about the future of our churches and denomination, may we discover the power of "being with" and may it make a difference in how we share the gospel with the world around us.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Bales
Director of Communications
Presbytery of San Jose