Saturday, October 23, 2010
The Local Church and Poverty
First it is probably helpful to get to know the families, one by one, and hear their story. There can't be help for a community until there is understanding of individual stories. Getting to know a family in poverty is the best starting place to help them.
But what is the goal of that help to the family in poverty? Is it our intent to help that family break free from the chains of poverty? Are we helping a family out of situational poverty or generational poverty? Is there any kind of disability involved? Any abuse or addictions that have caused this poverty? If the release from poverty is about something else other than money, how do you know when the family is released?
If a local church only deals with families in poverty when there is a crisis, it is likely that the church will become hardened to helping. The crisis is never-ending, there is no life change, and the money is limited. But how can a local church help families in poverty unless that local church lets those families worship with them, become part of the congregation?
What happens, though, when a middle-class church starts inviting the working class and poverty class families to be part of their church? The social dynamic will change. The conversations at potlucks will change. The small group experiences will change. The counseling situations will change. The financial stability will change. Will middle class families want to worship and raise their kids with those living in poverty?
How are families in poverty to find Christ and find new economic stability unless middle-class families follow Christ into the lives of those who are poor. If Christ came to us while we were yet sinners, then we ought to go to those who are not yet free from poverty. Unless, of course, you don't think that Christians and churches have an obligation to help families in poverty find freedom from those chains.
In my searching for understanding, in my work to follow Christ, in my pastoring and caring for families in different kinds of classes, I wonder... What is the local church to do about poverty? The congregation I serve includes those from the working and poverty class. It was a goal of our church to serve and help and minister to families in our neighborhood. And we are always learning how to do that better. But the working and the poverty class live in the suburbs, live in small towns, live out in the rural areas. A local church always has poverty around it. You will find what you are looking for.
Should the church make it a priority to seek out the poor in the community to join your congregation? Or should we only engage them if they contact us first? And are we to "fix" them when we meet them? What does it mean for a middle-class church to love a family in poverty? Can a Christian stay poor and still be mature in Christ? Can a family be stuck in working class yet be a devoted follower of Jesus? How can a local church help families in poverty become self-sufficient like those in the middle class? Is that even a valid goal? Do the poor and working class Christians have anything to offer the middle-class Christians?
Maybe the local church needs to minister to the poor more than the poor need the help of the local church...