STEPS TOWARD THE DISCIPLESHIP OF THE POOR OUT OF POVERTY
So how can things be done through the church, and done well? Let me lay out a pattern for those trying to organize a ministry of mercy. There are several things that are important components.
First is actually knowing and meeting the poor. This is part of the “relocation” idea of John Perkins and CCDA core principles. If there is no relational bridge to the poor than the kind of help we give will be like the kind the military sometimes gives in times of disaster when it parachutes supplies out of an airplane. That might help in time of disaster but it doesn’t change lives. We have found that when we meet the poor on a spiritual basis we have a far greater amount of influence in their lives for economic change.
Doing evangelism and outreach within poor communities is a way of building spiritual and relational bridges. If your church simply makes itself an agency for the paying of bills or handling financial emergencies people will look upon your church as such and it will be impersonal. You will simply be another resource for them to exploit to make it through the month. I believe it will sometimes be necessary for your church to handle financial emergencies or financial supplements for poor families, but without a relational or spiritual basis it won’t usually result in much change. What makes churches different is that we go after the human heart and soul, and everything else can grow from that.
Second, is establishing a point of contact in your church structure that proactively seeks to help the poor. We consider the Deacons to be the ones best suited for this role. Please notice that I used the word “proactively.” This means Deacons or mercy workers need to be trained to think longer term when meeting emergency or relief needs. Creating structure, policies, programs, etc. are all part of this but there needs to be a point of contact for the poor so they will know who to speak with and where to come for help.
Third, is developing the mentality that the church wants the poor to be part of the congregation, to attend, to worship, to join. Jesus told us that as we go we are to make disciples of the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that he commanded us. This is found in the Great Commission as we refer to Matthew 28:19-20. The local church is the place of discipleship, and it is where the poor need to be so they can grow in the knowledge of the Lord and of his Word. Our goal is not to simply have the church minister to the poor, but that the poor should become the Church, and then it about us together and not “us” helping “them.”
Fourth, is developing strategies, program, spin-offs, and referrals to help the poor we have helped by relief to now develop themselves economically. This is often unseen and unknown by prosperous churches. The process of economic development, community development, and using appropriate technology for development are issues that congregations within poor communities have to struggle with so as to help all of their people. Merciful relief gives the poor a bridge to get to the development process but without entering into the development process merciful relief can become a merry-go-round that the poor can’t seem to get off.
Fifth, we close the circle of ministry to the poor by discipling them into leadership so they can bless their own families and communities and not simply escape it. Many of the folks we help will not necessarily return to help us in our mission. Some will escape the “ghetto” through the education and jobs we help them to secure. Poverty makes people provincial by force and when they have economic options they will usually take them and one of those options is to move to a better neighborhood. We share some success in the economic elevation of people with whom we work, but our aim is to create radicalized believers who don’t simply live for themselves but for him who died and gave his life for them. We want the poor to become the next Deacons, Elders, Pastors, and Missionaries of our church.