“Book Review.” Sider, Olson and Unruh. “Churches that Make a Difference.” 2002. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

The thesis of this books is best summed up by the paragraph at the end of the introduction: any churches have seized this great timing in history to begin the journey in holistic ministry that will draw millions to personal faith in Christ, restore broken people to wholeness, and renew entire neighborhoods and societies.

Ronald Sider, most well-known for his books Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger and Just Generosity, is president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and a professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary .

Philip Olson is vice president of church relations at ESA and the director of Network 9:35.

Heidi Unruh is associate director of the Congregations, Communities, and Leadership Development Project at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

This book’s key themes revolved around reconciling evangelism and discipleship with social action. By looking at key churches that have developed this holistic approach in the Philadelphia area, the authors have portrayed a great hope and success through incarnational ministry.

By combining individual discipleship, with community development, and a passion for structural change, great transformation is given the perfect environment Great specific examples are given of how the church can be an effective agent for change in its neighborhood. I enjoyed the examples of how the church needs to get outside its own walls. Chapter 6 discusses doing VBS in homes in the neighborhood, inviting kids from a homeless shelter to go along on a church retreat or ski trip, or holding parenting classes and inviting people from the local YMCA.

So much of what churches do today is inner-focused. The whole concept of these holistic approaches to ministry are so refreshing, and seem so much like what Jesus had in mind.

I have been having a lot of qualms with my case study. I am addressing the issues of relationship issues between the employees and homeless guests at a local Skid Row homeless shelter. The more I delve into this issue, the more I begin to think this was not Jesus’ idea. All these programs and institutions (even if labeled “Christian”) seem to lose something in the translation from ministry or mission to program. They get bogged down in paperwork, red tape, and burn out. While great things are being accomplished, I feel there must be a better way.

For the past few years I have found it hard to reconcile evangelism with social justice. Churches, non profits and missions seem to pick and choose and one is lost in the shuffle. Yet, this book is able to reconcile the two and prove that this reconciliation may perhaps be the only way for real transformation to occur. I am given a new way to think and a new way to approach the idea of urban mission. This model makes sense, and it seems to bridge the gap between “the helper” and “the helped.”I can really see the idea of Lohfink’s contrast-society present here.

My passion for urban issues such as poverty and homelessness began during my semesters in Philadelphia studying at Messiah College Philly Campus (MCPC) and Temple University. The city holds a special love in my heart. I was excited and personally inspired to see the great work that God is doing to expand his Kingdom in this great city of brotherly love.


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