Social work and Christianity go hand-in-hand. Not only do the core values of social work align to the faith, but the very history of modern social work is rooted in the work of devoted Christians.
Before Jane Addams marked the start of the profession in the United States at the turn of the 20th century, others laid the groundwork in Europe during the 1800s. Elizabeth Fry reformed British prison systems, Scottish minister Thomas Chalmers empowered the poor to help themselves, Swiss businessman Henri Dunant was the visionary behind the Red Cross, and Octavia Hill initiated housing projects in London. They were all Christian, and Addams was no exception. Faith was the driving force behind her life of service
This renaissance of the early Christian humanitarianism is going on in America, in Chicago, if you please, without leaders who write or philosophize, without much speaking, but with a bent to express in social service and in terms of action the spirit of Christ.
You can have the same approach. Like many of the earliest pioneers of social work, your current or prospective career in the field can be an extension of your faith in Jesus Christ. That’s clearly the case based on the list of social work core values that guide the profession.
6 Core Values of Social Work
There are six ethical principles that the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has identified to lead social workers’ daily professional conduct. Located in the NASW Code of Ethics, these values have strong biblical support.
According to the NASW, social workers are primarily focused on helping people in need and addressing social problems. The call to service is so fundamental to their role that they’re encouraged to volunteer some of their professional skills without payment.
Serving others is a cornerstone of Christianity. In fact, you can’t separate your faith and love in God to service to others. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16 ESV), and John took it even further. He wrote that, “if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
The importance of service is seen most clearly through Christ Himself. He created all things (Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:2) but became human and sacrificed Himself to give whoever believes in Him eternal life (John 3:16). Jesus taught and healed and served so many people in His ministry on earth, and He continues to offer salvation to anyone. As the body of Christ, we should have the same mindset toward serving others (Philippians 2:3-5) in any profession or environment. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), Jesus said.
2. Social Justice
Pursuing change on account of people and groups of people who are vulnerable and oppressed is the second ethical principle for social workers. The term “social justice” can incorporate different interpretations, but the NASW called out specific social issues like poverty, unemployment, and discrimination.
God is just. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice,” it says in the Song of Moses. “A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). He also focuses on defending people in need. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zechariah 7:9-10). In Proverbs, King Lemuel’s mother tells him to “open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
Christians are to live in service to one another. That includes a focus on those people who need it most, which happens to be a basic way of describing the social work profession.
3. Dignity and Worth of the Person
People are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). As social work stresses the dignity and worth of the person, it’s clear how the Creator has placed so much value on His creation.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?” Jesus asked His disciples. At the time, two birds were sold for a penny, so Jesus was drawing attention to how one was thrown in during the purchase of five sparrows. The question pointed to the insignificance of the single sparrow. Nevertheless, “not one of them is forgotten before God,” Jesus added. “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
4. Importance of Human Relationships
Human relationships are central to social work because they enable change. By connecting with people and developing relationships with them, social workers are able to enhance the well-being of others.
The value of human relationships is also essential to Christianity. When a lawyer asked Jesus what the great commandment of the Law of Moses was, He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-37).
Loving others is an extension of the most important commandment, to love God. Regarding the love of one’s neighbor, Paul wrote that you “owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Remember that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10) and allows you to help others in physical and emotional ways, just like a social worker can. It also allows you help people in spiritual ways, as any Christian can.
Integrity is one of the core values of social work, as it and standards like trustworthiness are necessary to helping others. Without honesty, responsibility, and ethical application, social workers can’t be effective.
Scripture affirms that integrity is more valuable than wealth. “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways” (Proverbs 28:6), David wrote. Trustworthiness is included in the Ninth Commandment to “not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) and in Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians about every Christian’s new life in Christ. “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).
The final core value of social work incorporates professionals’ knowledge and skills. Social workers should always aim to enhance what they know and how they apply it to help others.
In the same chapter of Colossians previously mentioned, Paul presented a concept that applies to all believers. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for me, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward,” he wrote. “You are serving the Lord Christ.
That’s exactly the mindset you should have as you’re in or potentially enter the social work profession. You should value the NASW’s core values of social work, but what you do as a social worker and as a human being is ultimately in in service to Christ—to He who came to serve. As you help people who need it most, you can glorify God and show others the love of Christ. Earn a faith-based online Bachelor of Social Work to gain the knowledge and skills needed to pursue a future in the field. At Malone University, you’ll engage in a rigorous curriculum founded in biblical principles.
Students at Malone have some of the highest passing rates for the LSW certification in Ohio. And because the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), graduates are eligible for advanced standing in many postgraduate degree programs.