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When it comes to a partnership between the church and the city, you never want to encroach on the separation of church and state.

But at the same time, you want the relationship to be mutually beneficial so that both the city and the church can best serve the people.

So how do you forge the right kind of partnership which is both politically acceptable, as well as truly helpful and biblical?

A Few Guidelines for a Partnership Between Church and City

1. Pay Your Dues

Photo credit: Señor Codo via / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Señor Codo via / CC BY-SA

To start off, historically speaking, churches used to obtain non-profit status because they were doing altruistic work in the city.  The government waived their tax obligations, since significant amounts of money were already being put toward serving the people.

So it was a trade-off.  The government knew that since it was supposed to serve the city, the church’s philanthropic efforts were an equivalent to tax monies which would have otherwise been used to take care of its citizens.

And the government realized that churches would become financially anemic if they were also forced to pay taxes on top of their work in caring for the citizens.

Today, we, the church, often demand non-profit status as a right, and put almost no resources toward serving people altruistically.  It’s actually abhorrent to do this, because we’re robbing the government of money owed to them.

A good partnership between the church and the city recognizes that a church must either pay taxes or honor the city (not to mention honoring God) by putting what would otherwise be tax money toward serving people tangibly.

2. Don’t Try to Take Over Politics

Churches should not use their influence to make demands of the city government.

Perhaps as individual citizens, they can lobby, since that is the beautiful thing we call democracy.  But the church as a whole must not extort or bribe city officials through votes or endorsement.

Ask your city officials what needs done. #church Click To Tweet

3. Don’t Let the Government Take Over the Church

Churches should avoid accepting subsidies from the government.

It is true that those subsidies are designated for specifically non-religious, social activities performed by the church.

(This means that if a church is running a soup kitchen on their property, they can receive government funds to assist them.  And a bible study can be conducted in that same room at a different time.  But, the funds cannot be used to support the Bible study.)

So in theory, the government would be helping altruistic efforts in the church.  But in reality, what happens once funds are accepted is the church comes under scrutiny to make sure that at no point is any religious activity or sharing of the gospel done at those altruistic efforts.

And as the church, we don’t want the government to be able to control when we share the gospel or how we love people.

A Few Examples of a Partnership between Church and City

1. Ask Your City Officials What Needs Done

civic leader partnership brainstorming city officialIt’s really a simple concept.  Your city officials’ jobs are to be in tune with the needs of your city.  So they know (probably better than you) what needs to be done.

So build a friendship and ask them.  Don’t worry about whether they have the same stance on immigration, energy, homosexual marriage, or fill-in-the-blank that you do.  We’re talking about helping people, and you don’t have to change your politics to listen.

A group in Denver is doing this.  They’re called the Art of Neighboring.  When this group of church leaders asked the mayor what needs to be done, he said that they need Christians to be better neighbors.  Read their story here.

2. Take Care of the People and Invite Your City Officials to Participate

You’ve got a really great event or ongoing effort?  Maybe it’s a community medical clinic, a homeless shelter, a feed-the-hungry event.

Build your relationship with your friend, the city official, and invite him to come participate.  It will strengthen your bond, communicate that you’re here to serve (like Jesus, let’s not forget), and provide more opportunities in the future as your friend will know who to go to when a there is an unmet need in the community.

Take care of the people. #church Click To Tweet

3. Be Willing to Work within Secular Structures

Photo credit: Parker Knight via / CC BY

Photo credit: Parker Knight via / CC BY

I know I said above not to “let the government take over the church”.  I stand by that.  The church as a whole should not allow the government to tell it what to do in terms of sharing the gospel and loving people.

But as individuals, you can still accomplish much through volunteering in structures like the school system, different advocacy agencies, mental health organizations, and shelters of domestic abuse.

It allows you to help without having to build your own program or organization.  And it tells your city government that you are on their side when it comes serving the people.

4. Support Secular Structures

A group in Portland, OR, has been able to help their city greatly by “adopting long-ailing Roosevelt High School”.  It included renovating the school and continuing to support it financially.

Examples like this demonstrate that the church can be about serving the common good.  Obviously, we do it for the glory of Jesus and love of our neighbors.  And it shows the community as well as your city officials in a way they can understand, that we care.


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Also published on Medium.