Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Shane Claiborne & John M. Perkins's new book, Follow Me to Freedom: Living as an Ordinary Radical, (Regal Books, 2009).

If God has given you a desire to take up a cause in your community - from empowering the poor, to reconciling people in conflict - you'll be much more effective working with others than alone. Significant and lasting improvements can result when you learn how to work together well in teams.

Here's how you can build skills as both a leader and a follower to help change your community for the better:

Build real relationships. Rather than just trying to help people through a temporary service project and then losing contact with them, aim to develop meaningful and lasting friendships with the people you hope to help. Commit to being a stable presence in your community, giving to others over time. Ask God to bring you and the people you reach out to together in unity, so that all of you can draw closer to Him through your friendships with each other.

Follow a clear vision. Ask God to give you a clear vision for your work together. Individually, ask how your gifts intersect with your community's needs. Together, ask where God wants you to go as a community. Challenge each other to seek God until His answers become clear. Once you discover the vision, articulate it and encourage everyone in the community to embrace it as their own.

Listen well. Listen carefully to God as speaks to you about the work He wants you to do. Listen to the people you're hoping to help - to their words, but also to the feelings behind what they say. Let them know that you want to work for their best interests.

Affirm people. Affirm who people truly are - beloved children of God who've been made in His image - and by doing so, you'll help them reclaim their dignity. This will motivate them to work to help themselves while you're also working to help them.

Take action. When you feel disturbed by some injustice, don't wait for others to right the wrongs. Take action yourself whenever you sense God leading you to do so. Remember that it takes more than just a good idea to change a situation; it takes someone willing to act on it to get progress started. Resolve today to become a person God can use to transform your street, neighborhood, workplace, school, church, and other parts of your community.

Move past fear. Don't let fear stop you from moving forward with the work God is calling you to do. Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the ability to follow your convictions in the face of fear. Pray for the strength you need to move forward when you feel afraid.

Be humble. Remember: It's all about God, not you. Don't let the importance of your work lead you to a prideful attitude that will render you ineffective. Always keep in mind that you're joining God in His work, and let your gratitude for how He is choosing to use you - despite your sins and weaknesses - motivate you to serve with humility. Keep in mind that your goal isn't a sense of achievement, an award, a word of praise, or even the specific changes you hope to see happen. Your real goal is to work for God's will to be done in your community.

Start where it hurts. Identify what's causing pain for the people you're trying to help, feel that pain with them, and lead them to the hope God offers them. Share stories of how God has healed your own brokenness, and be willing to struggle alongside others as they pursue healing for the pain in their lives.

Be the answer to some of your own prayers. Recognize that sometimes, when God urges you to pray for a particular situation, He wants to use you to be the answer to your prayers about it. So, when you pray for the hungry, donate to a local food pantry. When you pray for the unborn, welcome single mothers and adopt abandoned children. When you thank God for creation, plant a garden and buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. When you pray for the poor, invest your money into micro-lending programs.

Gather the right people to help. When you don't know an answer or can't meet a need, admit it, and look for others to join your team. Qualities to look for in people include: a strong commitment to Jesus, thoughtfulness, honesty, strong communication skills (writing as well as speaking), passion for people, a lot of energy, good discipline, a large worldview, thriftiness, and joyfulness.

Use your job skills. Consider how you might apply the skills you've gained in your career to your volunteer work, or even change your job so you're working in a more meaningful way. For example, if you develop luxury condos, you could shift your business' focus toward developing affordable housing for poor people. Do whatever you can to use your talents and skills to bring about more justice in your community.

Deal with sin wisely. Don't become desensitized to the sin in your own life while you're focusing on helping others overcome the sin in their lives. Confess your sins regularly to God and some other believers you trust. Repent of the sins you confess. Don't judge the people you're trying to help. Instead, remember that Jesus didn't come to save the righteous, but the broken.

Take a stand through civil disobedience when necessary. Since God is the ultimate authority, don't hesitate to stand against unjust laws or oppressive systems that contradict His Word. When your conscience urges you to act, go ahead and protest - but do so peacefully.

Give your best. Don't settle for less than a standard of excellence for yourself, and expect excellence from the others around you.

Form disciples, not just believers. Aim to do more than just introduce the people in your community to Jesus. While evangelizing is important, it's also crucial to help people move beyond belief alone to actually living their lives in faithful ways. Mentor them to help them grow spiritually, and ask some believers who you respect to mentor you so you can continue to grow spiritually yourself.

Adapted from Follow Me to Freedom: Living as an Ordinary Radical, copyright 2009 by Shane Claiborne and John M. Perkins.  Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com.
Shane Claiborne, bestselling author of
The Irresistible Revolution and coauthor of Jesus for President and Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers is a prominent activist and sought-after speaker. He is one of the founding members of The Simple Way, a community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. Shane serves on the board of directors of the Christian Community Development Association.
John M. Perkins has ministered among the poor for nearly 50 years. He founded Mendenhall Ministries, Voice of Calvary Ministries and the Harambee Christian Family Center and Preparatory School, and was cofounder of the Christian Community Development Association. He is the author of nine books, including the civil-rights classic
Let Justice Roll Down, one of the top-50 books of the last half of the twentieth century, according to Christianity Today. John has served on the boards of directors of World Vision, Prison Fellowship, and the National Association of Evangelicals. He is an international speaker and a teacher on the issues of racial reconciliation, indigenous leadership development and community development.

Original publication date: December 1, 2009