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MERCY SEEKS TO DISCIPLE PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY, NOT SUSTAIN THEM IN IT!

I am learning a lot as I go around the country challenging churches to do mercy that is effective to change people’s lives. So many churches motivate their members to do something, then mobilize them to do almost anything, except to bring poor people into their own congregation and love on them for a dozen years.

One of the problems I have (with myself) is to give any criticism about anyone doing something merciful. I don’t think our real problem is that we have too much mercy. I am glad but cautious with challenges about helping people too much although I agree with a lot of the diagnosis about money and time that is misspent and that damages poor people by creating dependency or damages their dignity.

I am cautious because Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time condemning wasteful acts of mercy but concentrates more on our unwillingness to show any. I want to encourage people to engage in mercy ministry, but I want to further encourage them to the kind of mercy that brings real change in the condition’s of people’s lives.

I often call people to “disciple the poor out of poverty.” Recently in two different places I was asked to supply a “curriculum” that would teach churches how to do that. This was a challenge to me, and there are some very practical steps I could endorse to help churches have a plan. However, I think that somewhere I might not have been understood when I stressed that relationships are what help people change their lives, and that the context of the local church, with its love and modeling of life, is where the poor are helped to be discipled out of poverty. I am afraid that a simplistic outline of courses that we could provide to the poor might be used as one more excuse not to bring them into our lives or congregations.

If the poor can’t culturally fit in your church then send some of your middle class people, who have been given the grace to be the servants of others, to plant a church in the community of the poor. Churches ought to mobilize their members to have a heart for mercy by giving them experiences to be “exposed” to mercy ministry. Once exposed to it they then need to be trained and continually challenged and motivated to be “engaged” in mercy ministry. However, if they are not trained and challenged in how to relationally and practically bring the poor out of poverty, thus making mercy ministry “effective,” then the mercy seems to be more for the mercy worker’ experience than it is for the poor.

Effective mercy understands the need for both charity and development, which are the two parts of mercy to the poor. Unfortunately both charity and development programs can miss the necessity of relationships in the context of a local church. Effective mercy is realized when relationships are developed over the long term with models and mentors (including families) which help the poor see a different value system. Values are often better caught than taught. The model of family itself is an essential building block to help end poverty.

Obviously a curriculum is what pastors and leaders understand and something that can be transferable. The process of loving, hearing stories, caring, responding in compassion and yet with wisdom, holding people accountable, challenging them to do for themselves without cutting them off, immersing them in the sound teaching of the Bible and the Gospel, all take time. This doesn’t happen in simple two hour tutoring sessions or basketball games at the rec center (though relationships might begin there). I think in my book I will add some practical type courses that will help, but my call to the saints is to love people across social/economic lines deeply, practically, and enduringly.

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