In the first article we answered the question “What is poverty?” The second article answers the question, “Why do we care about developing a framework for understanding poverty?” Now in this final article we answer the question, “How do we care for the poor?
We need to combine a proper understanding of poverty with an educated approach to engaging people in our communities suffering from poverty if we want to actually care for the poor in our congregations and community. As we established in the prior two articles, working with the poor is the ministry of reconciliation. And this ministry of reconciliation, bringing shalom to depleted resources, is one of the church’s highest callings.
So, if you’ve read the first two articles you might be asking yourself, “How do we care for the poor in a way that honors them and is effective?”
I have two words for you: Relationships and Resources.
We must have relationships with our people in order to actually know and love them.
Jen Wilkin says this about knowing God: “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” The same is true of people in poverty in our churches and communities. We have to know who the poor are among us if we want to love them.
We have to realize that not everyone who walks through the doors of our churches are of the same socio-economic status, they don’t all have two committed parents and they don’t have the same cultural and educational background. And whereas some might be well off financially, they might be spiritually impoverished. And whereas some might be well off spiritually, they might be lacking financially. We must have relationships with our people in order to actually know and love them. Otherwise we are simply loving the idea of them, a mere caricature that we have developed in our minds.
Also, we have to realize that we are one of them. Just because we are vocational ministers, or lay leaders, or teachers or church staff does not mean we are on a different level than the people inside our church and outside its walls. The cross only elevated Jesus Christ. There is room for only one Savior in our churches. We run to the trenches and to the hard stories being told in our communities not as saviors, but as those who have been and are being saved.
When we know our people, we then have the wisdom and ability to assess the resource deficits that our specific church members and surrounding community members have. When poverty has both a face and a name, we can go to our brother and sister and find out what would actually be beneficial to them. We don’t have to go to a textbook for the answer and then take a missions trip to the poor, because both the problem and solution lies in our congregation already.
We mentioned these nine resources in the previous articles, but it would be beneficial for any preacher, teacher, nurse or community worker to be aware of Dr. Payne’s resources that help build a framework for understanding poverty. Again, it is critical that our churches understand that resource deficits along with their intervention strategies are not stagnant. There is not a specific intervention strategy that correlates directly with each resource deficit. Rather an intervention usually accounts for the whole individual while taking their specific resource deficits into consideration. You see, you can’t bring about restoration to resource deficits without relationships. But being able to know your people and know which resources they’re lacking will give you the wisdom and courage to take part in bringing shalom to resource deficits you see in your surrounding community.
Research has shown us that because relationships are key to survival for individuals from poverty, relationships are also the most significant motivator. Dr. Payne’s research on students states that
When students who have been in poverty (and have successfully made it into the middle class) are asked how they made the journey, the answer nine times out of 10 has to do with a relationship – a teacher, counselor, or coach who gave advice or took an interest in them as individuals.
She says over and over again that the primary motivator for success in bridging the poverty gap is relationships, not a specific strategy.
We want to be a light in dark places, to bring restoration to the broken parts of our world, to care for the orphan and widow.
Without answering the questions “What is poverty?” and “Why should we care about the poor?” one might assume that the end goal is merely to bridge the gap between socio-economic classes. But as Christians, that is not our goal. Our goal is not to get people from a lower class into a higher one. It is not even to simply develop better and more effective teaching strategies for churches that are socio-economically diverse. Although both of those goals are good, our purpose is the ministry of reconciliation. Our purpose is to bring shalom to any resource deficits our church and community experience. We want to be a light in dark places, to bring restoration to the broken parts of our world, to care for the orphan and widow. This is God in His holy place, so it shall be our holy place as well.
The poor will always be among us. The question is, do we see them? Do we know them? And do we love them?