The Justice Continuum

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
~ Matthew 22:37-39


The Justice Continuum: Compassion, Development, Structural Change

“The Justice Continuum” is a guide through the elements of commitment required for a holistic response to God’s heart for justice.

This systematic approach is also useful for developing initiative teams and creating engagement strategies within local communities.

The four segments of the continuum are: compassion, individual development, community development, and structural change.  The Just Life sees these as the four essential elements of “doing justice” – together these elements create justice ministry when matched with a relentless drive towards redemptive structural change of root causes.

Each community needs people of all types to be involved within all areas of the justice continuum in order to be a community that works together towards biblical justice. An individual can do a compassionate act, but structural change (justice) requires a concentrated power of will from a community. Justice is only achievable through community – the fullness of the biblical expression as it was meant to be (See “Core Concepts”).

After beginning a justice initiative, the idea is to use this simple tool to begin generating daily, practical responses to God’s heart for justice as well as develop deeply technical and complex solutions to very real problems.

Below is a graphical representation that helps visualize and organize the continuum elements – beginning with compassion and always driving towards the transformation/redemption of structures (as signified by the graphical arc):


Download a PDF worksheet here.

Definitions of the continuum elements:

From compassion (to suffer with) to development (loving your neighbor as yourself) towards structural change (the redemption of fallen systems):

Compassion: the strict meaning of compassion is “to suffer with.” Com = With, Passion = To Suffer.  This means that we begin by entering into, being incarnate, in the lives of others as Christ chose to be (Philippians 2: 1-11).  Under this definition, action such as giving money, awareness campaigns, and mercy acts are merely connected pre-cursers – vitally important as they are.

Individual Development: most simply defined as holistic personal growth. Often this comes in the form of one-on-one discipleship.  Individual development is sometimes indistinguishable from community development.

Community Development: can be understood as the holistic development of people, the relationships within communities, and the restoration of places and institutions.

Structural Change: is about addressing issues of power, law, and systems – potentially creating alternative systems.  This is about engaging the root causes of why people are poor or oppressed, often talked about as “social justice,” and traditionally addressed through legal and political advocacy.

The elements of the Justice Continuum need to be explored and understood separately, but in practice all stages overlap, intertwine, and work together.  Additionally, the continuum can be understood in three “layers.”



The three “layers” of the continuum:

The elements of doing justice also take on a multi-dimensional appeal. These dimensions are the internal, the external, and koinonia (Church).   Of course, they are also intertwined and not truly separable.  Together they are integrally tied to The Just Life’s maxim of “justice through discipleship.”

  • Internal: personal growth, dying to self – Conforming to Christ
  • External: service and sacrifice to the world – Serving as Christ
  • Koinonia: The Church, Christ’s Kingdom – Showing the world Christ


Examples of the continuum elements:

Internal Continuum: Often, injustice is not seen and justice is not done because of the sin and brokenness inside of us all.  A life of love and justice begins here – with dying to self so that Christ might be glorified through us.  We need Christ to redeem us, transform us, and make us holy so that we can serve others.  We need to take a hard look at the harmful cultural/worldly (as well as media-influenced) ideas that permeate our hearts and thoughts.  Sometimes we need simply to pray for God to break our heart for others because our fallen selves are simply too prideful to see and too selfish to care.

Compassion: addressing and acting on feelings of guilt and lack of mercy – developing a Christ like (self-sacrificial) heart for others.

Development: addressing and acting on our personal conceptions of race, dignity and equality, as well as our responsibility to embrace others.

Structural Change: conviction and action for social and economic transformation – a renewed heart and mind, a new creation, a living example of how the broken structures inside us all can be transformed.

External Continuum:  Expanding on the classic parable “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” we can explore a bit deeper what these elements might look like.

Compassion: give a man a fish
Example: volunteering at a soup kitchen

Individual Development: teach a man to fish
Examples: committing to a tutoring or mentoring program, making a cross cultural friend, taking in a trafficked child

Community Development: give a man fishing equipment and educate him how to use it so that he can strike his own course and teach others
Examples: starting a tutoring or adult education program in your community, building a low income housing units for the poor, putting your children in local schools and getting involved, promoting cessation of trafficking in specific communities

Structural Change: give a man a pond/enable him to buy a pond so that he will have control over his own livelihood
Examples: working to reform the education system, creating a school with no race/class barriers to entry, changing laws, helping enforce laws, redeeming social and/or cultural systems, creating a better “kingdom” system within the bounds of the law

Koinonia Continuum:  The local church is God’s agent for change – the beloved community.  Each local community is to be a visual representation of Christ’s kingdom being imaged forth.  If there is racism, division, inequality, and/or oppression in a body of believers how are they to be the prophetic voice of God to the world?

No community is perfect, and each needs to take a close look at is own systems to root out any injustice within.  There is an implied priority to the body of believers, as well as extraordinary level of service and sacrifice of a supernatural nature.  To not merely love our neighbor as our self (Mat 22:29), but to love one another as Christ loved us – that the world knows we are His by our love (John 13:34-35).

This is about creating a community that truly represents justice values down to its core.  A place where there truly is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal 3: 27-29) – and not just in the metaphorical or spiritual sense, but in this physical time and place.

Compassion: Is our church community known by our Christ-like love for one another?  Are we incarnate and invested locally? You cannot commute to a calling!

Individual Development: Do our people harbor racist, sexist, classist, or any exclusive attitudes?  Are we willing to embrace those who are different?

Community Development: As a whole, is our community open to those different?  Why might there be a lack of diversity in the community?

Structural Change: Does our church structure exclude others, align with or perpetuate oppressive systems? Is our leadership representative of the community?

Getting rid of a “versus” mentality:

In the past “compassion” has been pitted against “justice” in way that creates unnecessary division – i.e. compassion vs. justice.  Justice advocates can sometimes put down acts of compassion as if those being compassionate do not “get it.”  In reality, often times the simplest compassionate act becomes an act of structural change when that moment begins to break through and tear down oppressive structures. The continuum helps us see how compassion can be the gateway to, or lay the foundation for justice.

That said, some differentiation can be helpful:


  • Relieving human need
  • Seeking to minister to individuals and families
  • Involves responding to a felt need of another
  • Doesn’t change systems
  • Usually non-controversial


  • Removing the causes of human need
  • Seeking to transform the structures of society
  • Acts out of a feeling that something is not right
  • Changes systems
  • Often controversial and causes discomfort

Next: Using the TJL continuum for initiative development…

He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:8