Last week I spent three days interviewing people for some secular community development jobs. It was a fascinating process.
One of the things I got to do was ask each candidate one question: this is what it was:
In community work there is always a risk of conflict. How would you;
a. Anticipate and avoid it?
b. If it did occur, manage and resolve it?
The answers were generally very similar:
Keep communication open
Meet people privately
Chair meeting well
Whilst the answers were good and sensible, they did make me wonder. Not one of the answers dealt with the heart. Not one.
This is odd. As all conflict surely comes from the heart. Therefore, to deal with the conflict you must deal with the heart. The way we do this as Christians is to preach the gospel to ourselves, to let our hearts be transformed by the gospel of grace that is ours in Jesus.
I guess this is the major difference between secular and Christian community work. Indeed, it is similar to the difference between secular and Biblical counseling. The secular world view does not take the heart into account as the main driver. It does not see the heart as something that is so infected and sick, that it needs a complete transplant. Rather, the secular framework ends up trying to transform the person from the outside-in, rather than from the inside-out.
However, an atheist journalist can see the need for inner transformation. Matthew Parris wrote about African community development in the Times at the end of 2008:
Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I believe in community development, and am committed to certain projects and programmes locally. However, I also believe in the gospel, and am committed to it’s proclamation.
This is how we will truly end all conflict.