Dignity Serves is a facilitated training curriculum produced by Polis Institute for the purpose of helping people give and receive with dignity. The curriculum is now in its fifth version. The primary author is Phil Hissom. Amy Lauger played a key role in writing the first version and Jennie Hissom helped write the second. Many others have provided feedback and insights along the way that have helped shape and mature the materials.
The idea for Dignity Serves originated in 2007 during a research project called “Seeking the Welfare of the City." Without the commitment, leadership, and encouragement of Angie Winn, Jim Seneff, and Dr. Frank James, this project never would have happened. All who benefit from the materials inherit a debt of gratitude towards each of them.
Thousands of people have been guided through Dignity Serves since it was first piloted. Typically, these trainings have taken place in group settings of roughly 20 people who meet for 9 hours to cover the introduction and the six lessons. Often these groups meet on a Friday evening and Saturday during a single weekend while others go over the materials week to week.
Dignity Serves utilizes a clear model for service that is rooted in a Christian worldview and biblical texts, most notably Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul and the church at Philippi modeled what Dignity Serves touts as the ideal context for meeting human need – dignified interdependent relationships. The model shows how the six key principles can be applied in a wide variety of contexts.
The intent of this website is to allow more people to be exposed to the materials, the principles, and stories of applying the principles so that they can be helped in their efforts to serve others. It is not yet a full replacement for the training which relies on group dynamics to be fully effective but as the site grows, it will serve as a helpful resource in its own right. The Members area of the site includes specialized content for trained facilitators.
Dignity Serves was written as a response to initial findings of a three-year research project on the ‘culture of service’ in Metro Orlando. The study was initially written to bridge service projects to Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) – a more sustainable approach to engaging distressed communities. ABCD was identified in the research project as the most recommended modality by successful community development leaders across the country. ABCD was absent in Orlando. Dignity Serves was designed as a tool to help people, particular church people, get involved in ABCD and other more long-term service modalities.
We found that it is very difficult to bridge service projects and development. Some have said that the two are antithetical. But we also discovered that Dignity Serves used a core set of principles that spoke beyond the service projects vs. development divide and impacted people at a heart level. The principles, though couched in examples of helping those in need, were applicable to every aspect of life. God has used the study to reveal what we believe to be the biblical ideal for all of our relationships – dignified interdependence – and how that is the ideal context through which human needs are met. Lastly, we discovered that the church’s approach to service in Central Florida was not unique and that there exists a hunger throughout the American church to learn to serve others with dignity. We also discovered that the principles spoke to people outside of the Christian context altogether. The curriculum has been used in a variety of community settings as a result.
The culture of service in the American church appears dysfunctional. We seem apathetic or arrogant - ignoring the pain in our communities or assuming we have all the answers. Neither of which is consistent with the cause of Christ. When we respond to needs, we tend to do so in a way that seems right, feels right, and for which we often receive praise. But we don’t often pause and reflect – was that really helpful? We provide the greatest amount of stuff to the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time and call that success. This approach sacrifices relationship for the sake of efficiency and confuses feeling good with doing good.
The good news is that in spite of the apparent dysfunction there generally exists a willingness to learn and to grow in the church. Often, we just simply do not know what to do in response to the broken-hearted feeling we get when we encounter a real need. A broken-heart can’t be taught. Without it, nothing happens. With it, and with the God who mends broken-hearts, we can learn to serve more effectively. This often requires a full-scale paradigm shift on how we view human need, human dignity, and God. And that shift can be taught. The books currently available offer valuable insights on what the problem is, we hope that Dignity Serves provides some practical steps for what we should do about the problem and how our actions can best lead to dignified interdependent relationships and further the cause of Christ.