There is a lot of talk about the unemployment rate these days and how to generate jobs and get people back to work. Yet, it is obvious that the efforts to address these needs are falling short.
Even though many churches have become aware that they need to demonstrate the Gospel by living it out and being attentive to the basic needs of people in their communities. Most are not involved in ministries that will help people get back to work. Food pantries and clothing closets are popular. Employment ministries are not.
I think that it reflects an honest oversight, but also conveys a predisposition toward a relief-oriented approach, rather than a development approach. One is a drain on the economy. The other is a boost to the local economy. One is sustainable. The other is not. One gets at the core issue. The other treats the symptom. One sustains a client/provider relationship. The other is a mentoring relationship.
Several months ago, I completed a government program that provided money for retraining. Even though the program and the people involved were well-meaning, the process was impersonal, disjointed and all about meeting requirements and jumping through hoops. Unlike government agencies, the church is uniquely suited to a relational, mentoring approach.
Many people who are unemployed have significant barriers that need to be overcome. They may be untrained. They may not have reliable transportation. They may lack confidence. They may need childcare. They may be ex-offenders. They may lack the necessary soft skills. They may be older workers whose jobs have been off-shored. They may need to train for a different line of work late in their career. They may lack the skills and knowledge involved in searching for a job, including preparing a resume and learning how to interview. They may have little relational capital and not have developed networks. So, workforce development or an employment ministry needs to multi-faceted and personalized.
The components of an employment ministry include:
- Intake to explain the program and the commitment involved.
- Instruction in soft skills (good attitude, verbal communication, good ethics, dependability, professionalism, team work, etc.)
- Mentoring to shepherd a person through the process and to be a friend and encourager
- Business relationships to work with you as potential employers for you graduates
While there is a time and place for relief aid, social need ultimately leads back to development and the necessity of helping people to be able to provide for themselves.
Originally posted June 22, 2010.