Good Works – Keith Wasserman and Christine Pohl

Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful Discipleship by Keith Wasserman, Christine D. Pohl
Published by Eerdmans on July 13, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life, Memoir
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For over forty years, the community of Good Works, Inc., has shared life with its neighbors in rural southeastern Ohio, a region with high poverty rates and remarkably resilient people. Offering friendship to those without a support network and shelter, care, and community to people without homes, those involved with Good Works have made it their mission to embody the gospel in innovative and lifegiving ways. What insights can be gleaned from Good Works, and how might these lessons be applied to our own communities and churches?  Keith Wasserman, the founder and executive director of Good Works, and Christine Pohl, a scholar of hospitality who has written extensively on church and mission, explore challenging insights from the story of Good Works and how it has grown over the years into a unique expression of discipleship in the body of Christ. At the heart of this community’s story are connection and mutuality. Good Works functions not as a charity or social service agency but as a place where everyone has the opportunity to both serve and be served. And although worship is a central paradigm for life at Good Works, Keith and the leaders of the community regularly partner with non-Christians from all walks of life who desire to help.
Christians everywhere who hunger for lifegiving involvement in their local communities—wherever they might be, and in whichever circumstances—will find inspiration and guidance in this quiet but powerful Appalachian ministry. Short prayers and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter make this a book to be studied and shared among those who know that love of God and neighbor is the starting point, but who aren’t sure where to go from there.

Our churches have lost a sense of community. The majority of church attenders do so for a couple hours a month and never really invest themselves into the community of the church. At other times, churches do have community, but that community is insular and cut off from the larger civic community that surrounds them. We have, by and large, lost a core component of the early church. Good Works: Hospitality and Faithful Discipleship is a memoir and primer on restoring that connection and becoming a community of equals and friends.

Keith Wasserman founded Good Works Inc. in 1981, providing shelter and food in the basement of his home for the poor of his community. That’s how it began. One family. One simple mission. Forty years later, the mission has remained simple, but Keith’s vision has grown to multiple endeavors in multiple spaces throughout the area, all with the purpose of building community and fellowship, alleviating poverty, and sharing the love of Jesus. Good Works—co-written by Wasserman and Christine Pohl—tells that story, but mostly through the medium of outlining their message. This isn’t a self-congratulatory memoir or a tale about how some guy helped a lot of people, it’s a blueprint to reproduce the community and hospitality to which they’ve committed themselves.

The book opens with a reflection on worship and how Good Works views worship as worked out in mission. Worship goes far beyond a stage and a song, but is seen in real and tangible efforts of hospitality. Next, comes a chapter on integrity. In a society that is rife with stories of toxic church leadership, Wasserman uses his organization as an example of how to hold high expectations from employees and volunteers while also ensuring that they are heard and valued.

The most powerful chapter for me was the one entitled A Community of Friends. I’m currently writing a doctoral dissertation on that very subject, about how Christian leadership must lead through friendship and be connected to the communities they serve. While I didn’t come to Good Works as a result of my research, it pleasantly dovetailed with a lot of what I had been studying (so yeah, I’m going to have to update my literature review section, I guess) and provided real-life, long-term examples of the power of friendship. In particular, Wasserman advocates that we truly get to know the poor and see them not as projects, not even as people, but as friends.

The next chapter, Leadership in Community, also does a lot to counter the toxicity we’ve seen from hierarchical Christian power structures. Wasserman gives a tried-and-true outline for how to be a fellow follower leading others on a mutually-defined goal. It shouldn’t be revolutionary, because everything makes so much sense and mirrors so much of what we see in Scripture, but it is a powerful counter-testament to many of the ways in which we have construed church and community.

Good Works is reflective, practical, and powerful. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, inviting the reader into the conversation. Perfect for small groups or church leadership teams, this book should be read, understood, and implemented within the local church. It’s a true gift.