For another segment on Reports from The Front, Tim and Rick continue the discussion with pastor Dan Broyles on how social services and faith communities can work together to address social problems. Dan talks about the misconceptions social services and faith communities have of each other that oftentimes prevent collaboration, and they consider ways these groups might build trust and partner to help local families and communities.
Rick Langer: Welcome to the Winsome Conviction Podcast. My name is Rick Langer, and I'm a professor at Biola University, but also the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project and also the co-host of the Winsome Conviction Podcast with my good friend Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim Muehlhoff: It is great to be back with you, Rick. We do a segment called News from the Front, where we have, over the years, just discovered absolutely amazing people doing amazing things that is surprising and incredibly encouraging, that maybe the argument culture isn't this fortress that we can't crack. We have some wonderful people that we want to introduce you to. So, Rick, why don't you give us just a quick recap of our guests?
Rick Langer: Yeah. One of our favorite persons to talk to about the Report from The Front is a guy named Dan Broyles. Dan's been a care pastor at the Valencia Hills Community Church for many years now. But before that, he was a social worker for the County of Los Angeles. He spent a lot of time working with children who are abused and neglected.
He has done some amazing things in the relationship between LA County and churches, and fostering a synergism between the services provided by the faith community and also the services provided by the government.
It's been a delight for us. Tim and I just got a big kick out of talking to him about some of the things that go on and some of the ways to make what has often been treated like a DMZ, a demilitarized zone, to turn it more into a cultivated field. And so, Dan is the ultimate guru of that, and we are thrilled to have him back joining with us again today.
Dan Broyles: Yeah, thanks for having me back. It's just a joy to be with you guys.
Tim Muehlhoff: I was literally writing down things during our first segment with you, and the one that really just stands out to me is when you said that, "Tim Muehlhoff's teachings have changed my life." Dan, thank you so much for saying that. I don't take that ... No, I'm kidding.
Dan Broyles: I'm just here to support you.
Rick Langer: Keep going.
Tim Muehlhoff: No, Dan and I actually met at a conference. When he came up and told me just a little bit about his story, I said, "You've got to be on our podcast." But the phrase I wrote down, Dan, is before you correct a person, connect with them.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: I thought ... But here's what I think the pushback would be on that, Dan, is but I have no contact with these people. We don't have any chance of running into each other. I live in my conservative Christian bubble. They live in their liberal bubble. Where do we connect? I mean I don't see any opportunity for this connection to take root. What would you say to a person who says, "I don't have any liberal friends. I don't trust liberal organizations"?
Dan Broyles: I would honestly say that that mindset is actually is living in fear and that I have to be with people who agree with me for me to be okay. There's actually no room for faith in that. So I really see that sometimes people only want to be around people that agree with them, and they become so sheltered to that. It actually decreases their creative thinking in their relationships.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: I would say Jesus, all the time, spent time with people he disagreed with. There were probably hundreds of things that he thought about that he had differences of opinion, that he didn't always have to bring up. So we don't have to bring those up just because they come to our mind.
I remember there was a mom I spoke to once. She was having trouble with her 20-year-old son. But she loved to give a lot of unsolicited advice, and things weren't working out.
Tim Muehlhoff: How'd that go?
Dan Broyles: It wasn't working out well. The son felt really, really judged all the time. I said, "You probably need to give advice about ... For every 20 thoughts you have for him, you probably can only say one." She felt so restrained, like I can't help him then.
And so, sometimes we find our value in how we can help versus our value in how we can just be. And so, that's the same in any relationship.
Part of it, I think, in my role as a pastor and as a community member, I want to continue to pursue people in my community, whether they agree with me or not. I have a coworker of mine who says, "Why do you keep inviting yourself over to other people's lives?"
So if I make a connection with, let's say, a school counselor briefly in a meeting, at a community meeting, for whatever reason, I'll email them three days later and say, "Hey, can I do a Zoom call with you to collaborate about something?" and, "Sure, we ... " And, again, and then start from a place of where do we agree? Can we love on children? Is there anything we can do? I was just talking this morning with someone who their whole job was to do mediation in divorce court.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my goodness.
Dan Broyles: That's what they do 40 hours a week.
Rick Langer: Oh gosh.
Dan Broyles: I said to her this morning, "If you were to think of something a church could do to help couples going through that, what would it be?" She said, "How about co-parenting through a divorce, a group?"
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh, wow.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Dan Broyles: I said, "Yeah, we can figure that out." We've actually done that once before, a co-parenting class. She goes, "They could so benefit because it's so emotional, so chaotic." So it's just stepping into places and really stepping into places of the unknown. I think sometimes as a Christ follower, sometimes we get, "I only want to step into conversations I feel comfortable with," and I think there's no room for faith. I think often God works through the uncomfortable more than we want to realize.
Tim Muehlhoff: As you were talking, I was thinking of a book by Rodney Stark called The Rise of Christianity. He's a sociologist. So he's trying to answer the question, how in the world did the Christian Church grow as fast as it did? You know what his conclusion was? That the church, instead of being in opposition to culture, sought to help culture minister to particularly women and children, that they came along and said, "Hey, we all care. So let's care together and be a resource with each other." That's exactly what you've been doing with people in LA County is the thing that brings you together is we care about these kids.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: That's our starting point. I think we've maybe lost that as the churches. There's a lot of problems. Instead of us just addressing them by ourselves with our own resources, we're going to combine resources. But that means probably us going to them, right?
Dan Broyles: Absolutely. I think in previous generations, it's felt like the church has said, "Come to us." I think there's such high levels of skepticism now that if the church really wants to grow, it needs to think of how do I go to them? That's one of the things we're trying to do.
Our church recently, about a year ago, started a program called Family Stress Support. What we do is we offer connection to families who are really stressed out. A lot of the families we get are from the government. We'll get families from the Department of Child Services, from school districts, from even secular nonprofits in which the family just needs more help. There's not necessarily abuse going on, but there's just plenty of stressors.
They'll voluntarily ask the family, "Hey, do you want more support?" If the family says yes and agrees to it, we then as a church assign a case manager to the family. The whole job of that case manager is to be a bridge-builder between that family's needs and community resources. They will go to their house, will go to their apartment, and will hold their hand to get help, because if you hand, let's say, a piece of paper with a bunch of phone numbers on it to a single parent of three kids, what do you think the chances are of that parent calling up the nonprofit, responding, they fill out the paperwork, and they get all the help they need?
Rick Langer: Wow. Yeah.
Dan Broyles: It's very little. And so, we will step into that gap and they'll hold their hand through that process and then be the bridge to get them the help they need. Sometimes it's just finding out where the food pantry is in their community to a place in their church to ... They need to find a counseling for their teenager, or whatever it is, and they'll be with them for months if needed. There's no cost to it, no strings attached. You don't have to become members to our church. And so, these social workers and school counselors are saying, "You can do things we can't do because we have all the restrictions and you don't. You can do creative things that will help this family. So can you help them?"
Rick Langer: The people that you're talking about, you called them caseworkers, these are volunteers from your church who are walking with people through this? Is that correct, or-
Dan Broyles: Actually, two of them now are employees of the church. That's all they do part time is-
Rick Langer: Okay. But, yeah, their connection to the church. It isn't a governmental position. It's a-
Dan Broyles: Yeah, yeah.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: Then some government officials, when they heard about this, were a little nervous. They said, "Are you just going to be proselytizing people?" I got that question and I said, "Well, actually, I think we're being really respectful of people." They were like, "Oh, how's that?" I said, "All we do is we ask every family, 'If we find a faith-based resource that could support your family, would you want to know more information?' If they say no, then we don't give them a church-based resource. If they say yes, then of course we do. So it's out of respect that we ask them."
Then every time I've said this to some of the county administrators, they're like, "Oh, that sounds reasonable," because then the client gets to decide. What happens is probably 90% of the families we deal with say yes to that question. They're like, "If it can help me, great."
And so, most people are saying yes because they're just desperate for any help. Then we're just sensitive how we go about it and want to just love on them, not be pushy about it, and just try to figure out the best ways to help them.
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, let me ask this. So this whole thing started when LA County realized there was an untapped resource of faith-based organizations, churches, and that they wanted a connection now between them and these religious communities. As you were that conduit, what was it that they thought you would be like? What did they think faith-based communities were going to be like as they were learning about them?
Dan Broyles: Well, I think some of the initial concern was really for the lack of foster homes. I think even in the secular world, government officials, board of supervisors realize that religious groups, churches can provide a place of community that other places can't provide. I think it's obvious in today's world, if you ask any sociologist, how important is it for community for families, the answer is really ... It's obvious as can be. But where do people go to find that?
Community needs to not be in person, not just only online. Online can be helpful. There could be online support groups that are helpful, but if that's your only supportive help, that's a danger.
The other thing that they were finding with kids and families in foster care is their only relationships were formal relationships, not informal relationships.
Rick Langer: That's interesting.
Dan Broyles: So it was their teacher. It was their teacher, the therapist, their doctor. So those are all the formal relationships, which are important. Those are important relationships. But if there's no healthy informal relationships of those friendships, what to do during holidays, birthdays.
We had a family through Family Stress Support. The social worker reached out, asked us to help. We found out it was the 10-year-old boy's birthday the next day. The family was homeless, but found a relative to crash at a couch. It was his birthday.
And so, we're like, as a church, "Where do you want to go for your birthday?" and he goes, "I just want an In-N-Out burger."
Tim Muehlhoff: Aw.
Dan Broyles: So what do you think we did as a church? We can pull that off. We didn't have a bunch of paperwork to fill out to buy this In-N-Out for this 10-year-old and his family. That's the type of thing also that I think they're realizing is the faith community doesn't have all the red tape that a government worker has.
Rick Langer: It strikes me that that's actually one of the beauties of this, because I think there's reasons for red tape, there always are. There's things that the government can probably do better in a more sustained fashion, a more accessible fashion, for some people who may not want to be connected to the faith community. And so, the idea of saying let's collaborate, let's work together, let's both do what we're best at doing just makes an enormous amount of sense. I mean, as you describe it, I'm sitting here going, "Oh, yeah, obviously. Why would anyone see it differently?" But it seems like people largely haven't even seen it as a possibility at all.
Dan Broyles: Yeah. I have a colleague of mine, Dr. Michael Rauso, who's one of the administrators. He said, "I think what would take me two years, you could probably do in two weeks."
Rick Langer: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Dan Broyles: Because if he's going to do any changes or design a new program, there's the hoops that are just relentless, that he would've to jump. I would probably talk to my senior pastor in a 10-minute conversation and go, "Oh, that sounds good."
Rick Langer: "You go for it, Dan. We're cheering for you, buddy."
Dan Broyles: Yeah. "That fits what we want to do. Okay, let's figure that out," and we would go from there. So I just think the church can be a place to step in there. I really think the church, one of the untapped needs that churches haven't really stepped into fully is the whole foster care world.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: What a place to live out the hands and feet of Jesus is the church. And so, the needs are off the chart for LA County needing more quality foster homes. But people are pretty scared. LA County has had a brutal time trying to recruit foster families. And so, this is an area, I think, that the administrators of LA County are like, "If they can help us recruit more quality families, that's a win for everybody."
Tim Muehlhoff: Dan, I teach self-defense at domestic violence shelters run by OC United. I went to a donor event for OC United, and they also have a foster care program. The statistics my wife and I heard were jaw-dropping. You listen to them and you go, "This cannot be accurate." Something like within the first year that a girl ages out, she's pregnant. Within the first year, it was like 50% of the guys are in jail.
Dan Broyles: Oh, yeah. It-
Tim Muehlhoff: It's unbelievable.
Dan Broyles: It's like literally go from foster care to often either homelessness or incarceration. I think the research that I read a little while ago that said 4% of those coming out of foster care will actually get a college degree.
Tim Muehlhoff: Oh my goodness. 4%.
Dan Broyles: 4% of emancipated foster youth will get a college ... A bachelor's degree.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Tim Muehlhoff: What?
Rick Langer: One of the things that ... You mentioned this really briefly as you were just talking about this with foster care, and you talked about the issue of fear. It struck a chord in me because I think Tim earlier mentioned Rodney Stark's book, The Rise of Christianity, talked about how the Christians cared for women, for children. They cared for hungry people.
The other thing that was interesting that Stark unpacks in that book is how we cared for those who were sick, including, in particular, those who were sick with the bubonic ... Well, with whatever plague happening. It may have been smallpox, it may have been black plague, whatever it was. But they had these waves of sickness.
When you think of the fear we had with COVID, it's ... I did this with my class recently where we talked about the COVID statistics, and then I put up the statistics for the smallpox vaccine that blew through the Greco-Roman world in about 160 AD, and it is breathtaking. Then I showed them a picture of a person who has a bad case of smallpox. It was a very still moment in class where you were looking at this.
So there was a huge fear factor, and the Greco-Roman world stepped back. Part of why we know this is Galen, the Roman physician that we often talk about, he saw the plague. He accurately identified. He was a good doctor, and he fled to Asia Minor.
It was the Christians who ended up nursing and caring for people at a time when you couldn't really cure people. All you could do was care for them in the midst of their suffering.
Dan Broyles: Right.
Rick Langer: That disproportionately allows people to survive, by the way. It's remarkably ... Even with a thing like the black plague, you have people who are 30% to 60% higher survival rates just because you give them basic nursing care. I mean clean up after them, give them food and water.
So, anyhow, the interesting thing in 160 AD in Rome is that you see Christians stepping in where fear have driven the non-Christians and the pagan people of that day out. We stepped into a fear gap, so to speak.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Rick Langer: I feel like we're doing the opposite thing now, where we're worried about our families. We feel threatened by the things that are going on around us. And so, we step away. I think the world steps away, too. I mean I guess all we're doing is imitating the obvious of I feel afraid, so I step away. But I think this might be one of those good moments to call to mind our own heritage that way, being the people who step in in the midst of fearful places.
Dan Broyles: Yeah, absolutely. There are some classes I teach at our church called Spiritual Care Classes, and one of the themes that comes out of it is how do we step closer into people's pain even if we can't solve it? How do we step into someone who's still really grieving, or how do we step into someone who there's no answer to the problem and step towards them, not away from them?
I think there's this idea out there that only the professionals can really help out if there's really some serious emotional problems, therapists, pastors, or whatever. Obviously the roles are really important, but how do I step towards them so they're less alone?
There's high anxiety for the average person stepping in with someone who's really depressed and you can't make it better, just offering your presence. I think the more that Christians do that, the more, I would say, they're attractive are to the rest of the world, to step into people's presence and not make it better for your own anxiety's sake, but just to be.
Tim Muehlhoff: Yeah.
Rick Langer: One of the things that ... We've talked around this a little bit, but I'd like to just ask you about this point blank, is how does all of this relate to ... Let me just call it traditional concerns for evangelism and outreach as a church. In other words, we want to care for others in all the realities of their physical needs and also their relational needs and all things that go on in their family life. But we usually are pretty committed, saying, but we can't just and only do that. We also have to care for the spiritual. We have to also speak ... There's a part of the gospel that's preached-
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Rick Langer: ... not just performed.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Rick Langer: So talk to us about that.
Dan Broyles: Completely agree.
Rick Langer: How's that worked for you?
Dan Broyles: Yeah. Well, I was just talking to a young adult yesterday, who is a Christian, and I said, "So with your peers, if one of your friends is really anxious about whatever in life, they're just stressed out, what do you think is more likely, them to come to our church to get ... " We have a thing called Spiritual Care, like a counseling kind of thing, "To meet with somebody one-to-one, or show up to a church service?" She looked at me like that's really obvious, like why are you even asking?
Rick Langer: Are you kidding me?
Dan Broyles: That's as obvious as obvious as can be. What's happened, I've noticed in our church is people are coming to our care group, support groups, our counseling ministries as the first step, and then they end up coming to our church service and connecting with the spiritual things. Then part of it is teaching people how to ask, I would say, good questions that opens the door that doesn't feel judgmental.
So, for instance, one of my favorite questions to ask if I'm meeting with someone who's not from a church background, or says they're not a Christian, or whatever it is, is I'll say, "Can you give me one or two positive and one or two negative religious or spiritual experiences you've had in your life? I want to listen."
Rick Langer: Huh.
Dan Broyles: It's amazing what comes out of that question.
Rick Langer: That is-
Dan Broyles: Then from there, you get to meet them as they are. Often they've been hurt by a Christian or there's a misunderstanding about God. Well, if I had that experience, I would understand why you'd be afraid of church.
Rick Langer: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Broyles: Then I can actually have compassion for you, which surprises them because they think I'm just trying to convince them.
Rick Langer: Yeah.
Dan Broyles: And so, trying to help people to ask questions like that. What happens is, I think in the past, there was I believe and then I belong. Now people want to belong, and then they believe.
Rick Langer: Wow.
Dan Broyles: And so, I just think people are craving connection, but I think people don't know where to start and where to feel emotionally safe. And so, they're not going to even show up on our church campus if they don't feel emotionally safe. But I agree with you, it's the whole person, not just the physical, emotional. People need to hear about Christ because that's what we're designed to do. The other question I'd like to ask is just where have you found you've gotten purpose that is sustainable?
Tim Muehlhoff: That's good. I'm thinking, my goodness, Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Before you get to self-actualization, you go through safety needs.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: Have you ever heard of this show called 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock? He's the one who did Super Size Me documentary. He does something for 30 days, or he asks somebody to do something for 30 days. So him and his girlfriend tried to live on minimum wage for 30 days, and you can't. So every time they spent any money that they showed it up on the top of the screen how much money they had left. Pretty soon they have no money left. They have no furniture, they can't buy food, all this kind of stuff.
So one day they stumble across this storefront. It looks like a furniture sale. And so, they just walk in and they're looking, because they just want to get a nightstand. That's all they want. And they really have no money.
They're talking to this one guy, saying, "Are you willing to negotiate the price?" and the guy goes, "Oh, I'm sorry. I don't think you understand what ... This is all for free. Everything in this entire storefront is free, and we'll actually deliver it to wherever you want us to deliver it. We're a church that just feels like we need to help people get by."
She starts crying. The girlfriend is overwhelmed ... And it's a documentary. She's being filmed, and she knows she's being filmed. She loses it and says, "I have never experienced such kindness." It was so cool. They had that nightstand right there and they had a dresser and they had a couch.
Dan Broyles: Oh, wow.
Tim Muehlhoff: But, imagine, every time they sat in that couch, they thought about that church.
Dan Broyles: Absolutely.
Tim Muehlhoff: So, Dan, I think we're wrapping this thing up where what you said, connect and then correct. That was one big connection that Morgan Spurlock will probably never forget. Thank you for being a great reminder that even in the midst of such division, there are points of connectedness. Maybe we need to take faith, put aside our fear. It's not always going to work. Doors are going to be slammed. It takes two to dance, and some just won't be a dance partner. But let's take that step of faith, and thank you for giving us the courage to do that.
Dan Broyles: Well, thanks for having me. Thanks just for your passion to step into culture and make a difference.
Rick Langer: You've been listening to the Winsome Conviction Podcast, and we'd encourage you to join us regularly. You can subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever it is that you get those. Also, take a look at the winsomeconviction.com website where we have just a lot of resources there, a lot of other things to stimulate your thinking about as we were talking today how you might be able to establish connection before pursuing correction. And so, we're grateful to have you. Please, look forward to having you with us next time.