It is somewhat ironic that Dan Kelly challenged me to come up with more specifics in dealing with the poor than just idealogical foundations as that was the direction I intended to head in this post anyway! I fully agree with Dan that church leaders should play a key role in leading the push to care for the poor. However, I personally believe that it is actually best if church leaders are the cheerleaders for helping the poor rather than those doing the footwork. The reason for this has to do with presence and available resources.
Some seem to believe that all the poor lack is education or encouragement. If the poor are taught about work and economics or we come alongside them and encourage them, the poor will have the necessary means to pull themselves out of their poverty. The church comes alongside to provide a few meals, a few tidbits of advice, a little education, but often little more. Is this really helping? I would suggest it does not.
What is often lacking with the poor is resources. Yes, food and education are resources, but I mean true economic resources. Any poor person can go to their local McDonalds and get a job. Why don’t they? Some say it is because they are lazy, others because they are not educated in the need to get a job. An alternative explanation is that a minimum wage job only wastes their time because it does not pay enough to solve their issue of poverty. What they need is a higher paying job, a job that is typically not in the area they live.
The resources they lack are possibly transportation to a higher paying job, knowledge of where those higher paying jobs are located, the ability to relocate to where those higher paying jobs are or having higher paying jobs come to them, or the necessary training to fill those higher paying jobs (yes, sometimes it is a lack of education). Where does the church enter into this problem of resources: Presence.
Rather than the churches planning soup kitchens and so on (which are great, don’t get me wrong), what if a church encouraged its members to take businesses into poorer areas, or provide personalized micro loans to those who want to start their own businesses, or starting car pooling for those who could fill a job in the suburbs, or encouraging businesses to offer on the job training rather than only hiring trained people. What if the church sought to be a presence in poorer communities, not just through mercy ministry, but through economic activity?
This is why I suggest that pastors should be cheerleaders but not doing the footwork. Let the entrepreneur in the pew be encouraged by the pulpit to start a business in an area where the workers could use the work rather than where the owner of the business gets the best tax rate. Let the person in the pew be encouraged to support businesses in the poorer areas of the town rather than in the suburbs. The church supports these initiatives when we buy coffee from poor Colombian farmers, sells baskets made by poor African women, and so on. Why not do the same for the poor in our own areas? The Church should not simply be a personal presence in the community but an economic presence (or paying presence to keep the p’s). Pray, personalize, partner, but also proprietorship. Could economic involvement help deal with poverty?