How the Church Could Help End Global Poverty

Mobilizing the Church's untapped resources to empower, educate and change the face of poverty.

In recent months, some thought-provoking articles have been written about wrong ways to approach poverty—articles that have struck a chord with the justice generation. A shift is slowly taking place in how our society views the poor. We desire to give more than just handouts and move beyond the statistics. We want to give of ourselves on a personal level, replacing numbers with names and faces.

Although this shift in our paradigms resonates within us, putting it into action is another story. While blanket drives, soup kitchens and food pantries are all needed and necessary, moving beyond the handout model takes time, investment, resources and collaboration. So where do we even begin?

Thankfully, we don’t have to start from scratch. In fact, one of the largest distribution centers in addressing poverty is right at our fingertips. It has been around longer than any organization or government program. It exists worldwide, thriving both in impoverished communities and in affluent neighborhoods. It is growing daily, and most importantly, it has a vast supply of experience, creativity, skill sets and manpower. I’m talking about the global Church.

Throughout history, we often see the global Church as the first to respond in times of need or crisis. It is frequently regarded as a symbol of peace for those in distress, a beacon of hope for those in need and a safe haven for those at risk.

Throughout history, we often see the global Church as the first to respond in times of need or crisis.

But although the global Church has made great strides in addressing poverty, there are a number of underutilized resources that exist within the Church, that if mobilized, have the potential to change the face of poverty.

Mobilizing Skill Sets

Summer is the prime time for many churches to send out short-term mission teams. Usually, the prerequisite to go is to be willing to participate in a skit or two, sing a few songs and maybe have a specialized art skill such as face painting or making balloon animals.

While running a children’s Vacation Bible School or sharing your testimony on a street corner definitely has value, the church has so much more to offer. What if we utilized some of the many skill sets we use in our everyday lives?

What if we sent a graphic designer to help a struggling micro-entrepreneur boost his tiny business by creating business cards and marketing material? What if we sent a small business owner to help a family learn how to budget, save and understand profit and loss from their vegetable stand on the side of the road? By taking the time to invest in the lives of the poor, rather than just a quick handout, we communicate value and dignity, opening the door for long-term relationship and sharing the Gospel.

Gerry Couchman, CEO of Willow Creek Association South Africa, explains this underutilized potential well when he says, “The untapped resource of businessmen and women in our churches is a powerful force. Once engaged, it has the potential to create massive impact among local entrepreneurs working themselves out of poverty.”

Often, having no ministry outlet for their skills and experience, professionals and businessmen and women in the Church are left with options such as ushering, serving coffee, serving in the children’s ministry or on the worship team—all noble opportunities, but none using their skills and passions in business.

In addition to giving suitcases full of secondhand clothing or bags of candy and toys, we as the Church can provide training and guidance that will go much further than a worn-out pair of shoes, both overseas and in our own local communities. From CEO’s and small business owners to accountants and marketing consultants, the church is overflowing with talent, skill sets, experience and knowledge just waiting for the opportunity to be used.

Meaningful Mentorship

This sleeping giant within the Church of untapped skill sets would not be complete unless we also engage in mentorship—specifically, relationship with someone different from ourselves. If we want to get up front and close with the face of poverty, we must continue “crossing the street” so to speak, entering into the lives of those in need.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” When we involve ourselves in the lives of the poor, and vice versa, our mindsets suddenly shift from “their struggle” to “our struggle.” Within the Church, relationships like these are just waiting to be ignited.

In South Africa in particular, one of the most dual societies in the world, we are seeing a growing number of churches catch on to the power of mentorship. For example, I know a man named Gavin who has years of sales experience in the textiles and garment industry. His goldmine of knowledge and experience was sitting dormant in the Church, just waiting to be utilized. When an opportunity arose in his local church to become a mentor to Alvin, a struggling micro-entrepreneur in his community, he jumped at the chance.

There is something powerful that happens when the Church Body takes ownership and truly engages in the lives of those in need.

You Might Also Like

“I enjoyed being able to offer help with the things I had managed to learn from years of being in the corporate world. As a mentor, I’ve almost come to know more about Alvin’s family than my own! We’ve become quite close,” he explains.

There is something powerful that happens when the Church Body takes ownership and truly engages in the lives of those in need. Bridges of trust are formed as economic, social, racial and religious barriers dissolve in the context of relationship.

Though we don’t have a perfect track record, the Church remains one of the greatest resources the world has in making a dent in poverty. As a result, not only are the lives of the poor transformed, but the Church is empowered, using their God-given talents.

Pastor Rick Warren sums it up well when he says, “The Church is still God’s chosen way of getting His work done. We have the privilege of making the invisible God visible to a hurting world through our service.”

Top Comments

Greg Matney

1

Greg Matney commented…

Great article Michelle! Having worked for 5 years with an organization to achieve this very end - connecting Christian businesspeople globally to fight poverty - the model is not without its faults. So often, we (NGOs and missions) couple business volunteers of means and business volunteers with real, transferrable skills. It is very challenging to take a western business volunteer, especially on a short-term trip, and provide real value to an emerging entrepreneur. I think a better model is building local associations of business entrepreneurs that support each other - intentionally identifying missional entrepreneurs (not just Christian businesspeople) who are willing to reach out to the less advantaged in their OWN country/communities. But - these are a very rare breed of people! Unfortunately, even if this end is achieved, it does not necessarily translate into a healthier church, if stewardship and giving is not affirmed. Also, the church (in the global south) rarely has capacity to run such programs, both due to a shortage of staff (most small churches are led by a single pastor), and there must be facilitators to help strengthen the partnership. In my estimation, the best strategy and support for entrepreneurs comes with 3 things - capital, training, and an opportunity. Mentoring is important, but it is short-sided if these 3 vital components are not present. The solution is challenging, and unfortunately I think that one-to-one partnerships with local church members can only produce incremental change. What we need are successful, scalable enterprises - funded by Kingdom impact investors - that intentionally partner with the local church (in hiring, in donating, and in outreach initiatives) to reach communities of need in their area.

Michelle Lenk

2

Michelle Lenk replied to Greg Matney's comment

Greg... thank you for your insight! I definitely understand what you are saying. There are many nuances and aspects to think about when connecting entrepreneurs and transferring skills. It sounds like the particular organization I serve with in South Africa resonates with much of what you are saying, which provides a volunteer-driven outreach model for the local church. It gives Christian businessmen and women the opportunity to use their expertise and experience to journey alongside microentrepreneurs right in their own communities. And yes, the impact of mentorship is definitely increased when it is combined with things such as business training, discipleship, microcredit, etc. You may be interested in checking out shiftingparadigms.org. Thank you for opening up the conversation!

6 Comments

Greg Matney

1

Greg Matney commented…

Great article Michelle! Having worked for 5 years with an organization to achieve this very end - connecting Christian businesspeople globally to fight poverty - the model is not without its faults. So often, we (NGOs and missions) couple business volunteers of means and business volunteers with real, transferrable skills. It is very challenging to take a western business volunteer, especially on a short-term trip, and provide real value to an emerging entrepreneur. I think a better model is building local associations of business entrepreneurs that support each other - intentionally identifying missional entrepreneurs (not just Christian businesspeople) who are willing to reach out to the less advantaged in their OWN country/communities. But - these are a very rare breed of people! Unfortunately, even if this end is achieved, it does not necessarily translate into a healthier church, if stewardship and giving is not affirmed. Also, the church (in the global south) rarely has capacity to run such programs, both due to a shortage of staff (most small churches are led by a single pastor), and there must be facilitators to help strengthen the partnership. In my estimation, the best strategy and support for entrepreneurs comes with 3 things - capital, training, and an opportunity. Mentoring is important, but it is short-sided if these 3 vital components are not present. The solution is challenging, and unfortunately I think that one-to-one partnerships with local church members can only produce incremental change. What we need are successful, scalable enterprises - funded by Kingdom impact investors - that intentionally partner with the local church (in hiring, in donating, and in outreach initiatives) to reach communities of need in their area.

Michelle Lenk

2

Michelle Lenk replied to Greg Matney's comment

Greg... thank you for your insight! I definitely understand what you are saying. There are many nuances and aspects to think about when connecting entrepreneurs and transferring skills. It sounds like the particular organization I serve with in South Africa resonates with much of what you are saying, which provides a volunteer-driven outreach model for the local church. It gives Christian businessmen and women the opportunity to use their expertise and experience to journey alongside microentrepreneurs right in their own communities. And yes, the impact of mentorship is definitely increased when it is combined with things such as business training, discipleship, microcredit, etc. You may be interested in checking out shiftingparadigms.org. Thank you for opening up the conversation!

Vic Christian

23

Vic Christian commented…

Addressing the poor is important. That said, the primary purposes/missions of the church (the body of Christ) is to Glorify God, the Witness of the gospel, to disciple. The poor will always be with us, but that should not be out prime focus.

Jared Noetzel

1

Jared Noetzel commented…

Michelle, thanks for this article. I think the challenge of global poverty is something that we, as followers of Christ, need to think more deeply about--your article helps push people towards that deeper thinking.

I'm curious if you or your organization have considered the role of advocacy in the work of ending global poverty? The millennium development goals help countries track successes and failures in the key indicators of poverty (hunger, education, health, etc). Dozens of relief and development organizations engage in critical work, like mentorship, skill sharing, and microfinance, in an effort to accomplish those goals. The U.S. Government also plays a role in supporting those organizations and their work. In fact, U.S. Government leadership often leverages investment from private firms and other countries. However it isn't granted that we as a country will prioritize these kinds of poverty eradication efforts. Rather, poverty-focused development assistance (the technical term used to refer to this kind of funding) is often a target for cuts. Its the advocacy of people in this country that helps to make PFDA a priority for the U.S. Government.

I think advocacy is an excellent way that we as citizens of the U.S. and followers of Christ can live out our faith in the public realm. When we lift up the needs of the marginalized and the oppressed, we're showing the world what kind of God we serve. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Paul Penley

11

Paul Penley commented…

I have evaluated models for church-based programs empowering the poor and specifically tracked the author's ministry in South Africa for the past 5 years. Paradigm Shift in South Africa has combined local church ownership, mobilization of business-person volunteers, business training, one-on-one mentoring, and access to capital for vetted business plans into a wildly successful model for both church outreach and economic empowerment of the poor. Immigrants from 22 African nations have been trained in series of 5-month programs resulting in 72% growth in business income for loan recipients and 14% of participants committing their lives to Christ. The churches have grown through their Paradigm Shift programs, the entrepreneurs have invested more in their children's education, the business growth has created jobs among the poor in South African shanty towns, and financial insecurity has been reduced through savings. Has anyone evaluated a church-based outreach program to the poor with better results?

Marlene LAne

1

Marlene LAne commented…

A life-time of debt. Dear Editor :
A city attorney is suppose to tell the truth to the city. Well at the Jan. 26 afternoon meeting the women in that office, spoke for the perceived interest of those paying her pay check. She claimed no anti homeless law was overturned anywhere in the USA. She did not need to leave Colorado to disprove that.

In 2013 this Colorado Springs City Council composed a ordinance which was indeed deemed to be mostly unconstitutional by the Denver Court. It was the anti panhandling law.
Courts have called cities anti homeless ordinances unconstitutional. In August the US Dept, of Justice, DOJ join a homeless women in Idaho, and said no person should be found criminally guilty of a crime, for fulfilling a basic need, as sleep.

When one aspect of a claim is false examine the rest of what she says.

THE COUNCIL MEETING- walkers safety Act by Jan Lightfoot

One of the last speakers was a former DA who taught constitutional (Constit.) law at Denver law school, for a couple of years. Someone I wanted to meet for nearly 3 years.

There was a small group, there to speak on the anti-homeless bill.
At least three people were plants by the council. They spoke before the general population, They had ample time to express themselves. The audience had three minutes each. three, to express all on their mind and hearts.

Perhaps the plants were presented to make the council feel better about their bill. The city attorney explained the bill. These semi city protectors said YES to the bill, they called these people and referred to one female Amy, who wrote in favor of the bill. Of course the usual suspects included the business guy who had his windows broken. There already was enough law on the books to send that guy to jail where he belonged.

By the time they got to the bill about 14 of us came or ending up speaking on, the safety act. Any amount over 7 people speaking on one issue is a lot. The council meetings are in the afternoon, many people are still working.

It was past time for the council meeting to end. All but one spook in favor of trashing the ordinance. Some said there was no evidence that that safety was really on issue. Jenny spoke first. She said the city did not provide one Iota that lack of safety was anything but a perceived or made up, issued.

About 3 females said they were afraid of the COPS not the homeless a 25 or so said she knew real street violence from another city and that was not what was happening in Colorado Springs. Another one said her aging hips hurt but she was afraid to rest, down town homeless or not.

Before leaving I had given the city attorney what she wrote for the town meeting. It mentioned she was not an expert on the US Constitution. It used logic saying she had the required semesters’ of the law which lawmakers are suppose to us, in there contract to create laws, perhaps one. Then the blond, used administrative /city law.

In her many minutes of presenting the law, the claimed without clear facts, that others using similar Draconic law where used in countless other cities. So it had to be const. This amounted to Jail was the new barriers thrown up to the homeless the impaired, back in the BC Greek time. These strict laws, back then meant death was the punishment for taking an apple from the trees. They were used as an illustration enough that the laws was invalid , unless we want to return to barbaric times. The town official used this as “ample proof!” that no court had struck the mean spirited anti-camping down. The 9th Cir. Court in 2007, of Jones vs. City of Los Angeles (444F3d 1118, said that enforcement of anti-camping laws may by unconst. By violating the eight amendment. The Court were deciding not the anti constitutional facts, but court procedures. That was as close as they could come to deciding the const. issue.

The poorest of the poor who has not have 3 cigarettes to their name, cannot hire lawyers to fight for their rights. The anti camping laws in Denver CO. is in fact unconstitutionally as can be. But the city attorney presents the Denvers laws prohibits people from sleeping at any time that could be why its not within the legitimate authority of the city. But never challenged the most financially vulnerable, decided food or other things are more wise to obtain. Then fighting in an unjust court, for constitutional right .
You do not need to be homeless to find corruption in the practice of law. Since 1976 the courts have stepped away from justice for those without lawyers.

Alex from the ACLU proclaimed a few hundred people the same number as in a news article, were found guilty of aggravated panhandling in Colorado Springs in one year, most without proof. The ALCU had challenged a panhandling city law in 2013, and expedited the case. In six months all the city ordinance was stuck down, except the fact those who asked for charity had to stand 35 feet away from business’s doors. This neither person said in their 3 minutes. But at least 2 of us will write an email to the council people. Hope for them to be included in the legislative actions along with Amy’s comments.

Anyhow one speaker pointed out the sidewalks are not just to get from one point to another as the city proclaims. It’s for people to talk with friends they meet down town, and other purposes.

Another pointed out their was a a better way to make even a punishment law, as the city attorney or council people talking with the ACLU people to draft it so it passed const. standards, or muster.

Many where shocked that the old lacking walking appliances, could no longer sit down on the planters. The activist had gotten the planters thrown out, but this law is so perplex as to when, and where you can sit to cause ordinary citizens confusion.

Others 3 minutes presenters, were just mystified as to how a caring city could turn so brutal to one group of citizens ! I indicated we were entering dark times. When compassion was out law. And what could not be accomplice for 24 hours a day, should not be accomplished when customers were present either.

Many of the 3 minutes talkers indicated the city lacked one iota of PROOF that the homeless were any more dangerous then the housed. The words "perceived dangerous" was bantered by 95% of those who did speak.

I was not alone. I was lucky enough to tell the untold truth for many who had to work at 2:30 PM in the afternoon, when this act was was heard. The professor/ former DA said the city lacked authority to break the constitution, for even an hour. Basic rights of the homeless, who do not sleep good at night, did not evaporate for 10 hours a day.

There was one who came out in favor of the law. But she believed the myths we society comfort ourselves with. That there are plenty of shelter beds, that we are compassionate to the homeless. Especially, we care for the disabled homeless. That they would Never get thrown out of the shelter. Such is not true just propaganda the right wing spread, and do not allow the left wings who serve the homeless, to counter with the facts.

There are around 100 beds in COS. The Soup Kitchen feds 600-700 people a day. If only half of these people are homeless, 200-300 people are without a safe place to sleep.

Getting the homeless an apartment is the solution called for. Not jailing them, at taxpayers costs, at nearly the cost of a new Chevy or Ford. One state has realized it cost less, to address the problem of homelessness than to let them go to the hospital and jails more often then their housed counter parts. and gets them apartment. In December 2015 Denver yanked down the tiny homes.

Its time Colorado, and all other states realize the cost saving by helping the homeless to became housed. Then they will not be downtown on freezing or sweltering days.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In