All Christians know the Bible is full of commands to love and help the poor. The Old Testament is chock full of them, and the New Testament only adds to the pile.
Proverbs 14:31 “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
Proverbs 19:17 Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
Psalm 82:3-4 Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Isaiah 56:6-8 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Matthew 25:34-46 (hover over reference to read)
Galatians 2:10 “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 2:15-16 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
1 John 3:17-18 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
And the list could truly go on and on and on…
So if we know we are to love and help the poor, why do so few of us do it? And even fewer do it well?
Read Bob Lupton’s Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life if you want the full version of this, but in a nutshell giving handouts to the poor only makes things worse.
There is a time for handouts in temporary and/or crisis situations. But indefinite handouts lead to dependency and dependency is a guarantee someone will never get out of poverty.
Handouts are certainly much easier than any alternative, which is why they have become the default go-to for the Church’s effort to help the poor. But just because something is easier does not mean it is the way it should be done. In fact, if it’s harming people, it must stop being done!
This is not to bash the many great-hearted “handout” services out there. But it is to say there must be a bridge from the people being given handouts to a way of getting them out of the need for a handout altogether. And there must be a change in the way the Church approaches its overall strategy to help the poor, moving it from one of dependency to one of development.
Lupton’s point: instead of giving out free clothes, start a thrift store. Instead of giving out free food, start a non-profit grocery store or a food co-op. Instead of having a benevolence fund, use that money to create jobs for the poor people you’d be giving benevolence to. Instead of sheltering the homeless indefinitely, create a way for the homeless to buy their own homes. All of these break the chain of dependency, give dignity and help end poverty rather than perpetuate it.
A profound analogy that Lupton uses is one of a parent raising a child. He says it would be pathological for a parent to raise a child toward dependency, rather than raising them toward independence. Can you imagine a parent who never let their child hold the spoon, or tie their own shoes, or take their own bath? Yet this is how we treat the poor. Rather than doing everything we can to intentionally move them toward independence, we do things that are guaranteed to keep them dependent. (Note: by independence I do not mean isolation, but independence from dependency)
We do this for a number of reasons. One, we like the hit being the giver gives us. We like to give help, but we don’t like being helped. Being helped feels demoralizing, especially when we know it’s something we can do for ourselves. We’d all rather provide for our own families than have someone else provide for them. But the poor have been psychologically conditioned via dependency to live with a different mindset, a mindset stripped of dignity. Often we see the poor as inferior and us as superior in our helping relationships with them, and when we give handouts, in perpetuates that mindset on both sides. I know that sounds heavy, but I also know from personal experience that if we allow it to, it’s very convicting. Two, and the more obvious reason, handouts are just easier. Not in a shallow way, but in a very pragmatic, we-live-in-reality way. Where we only have so many hours and so much energy and anything beyond a handout seems impossible.
Great news: it’s not impossible. The Christian Community Development Association has been doing sustainable development effectively in the US’s worst neighborhoods for decades. (World Relief has been doing the same thing globally) As an official CCDA member, we are now doing it in Lansing.
Seeds Christian Community Development is officially up and running and I’d love for many of you to jump in and get involved with us.
Phase 1 of our movement is our social enterprise, Great Lakes Energy Solutions. Because of generous donations, we were able to start a business that employs the poor, rather than simply giving them handouts. How much greater dignity does a person have who can provide for their own family rather than depending on others to do so? Which would you prefer? (Bob Lupton refers us back to the second half of Jesus’s Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22:39 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The only way to obey this command then is to make ways for the poor to provide for themselves, not by providing for them.)
We are seeing this in full-fledged action with GLES. We have a crew of 3, plus a team leader mentor to create a work pod of 4 GLES employees. We have an additional employee working in our office. Our team leader mentor is a “pastor-on-the-ground,” doing daily and weekly discipleship and mentoring with the crew, as well as supervising all of the work. Our work team installs fluorescent bulbs, faucet aerators, caulking and ceiling ducts in housing groups. These contracts are paid for by the utility companies themselves, as the utility companies have government energy standards they must meet.
The beauty of this is that a pod is self-sustaining. The revenue it brings in pays for all of its materials and payroll, but there’s no way we could have launched this pod without donations. We would love to launch more pods (each employing 4-5 more people out of poverty), but a new pod can only be launched with donations (to pay for a van and a new set of work materials and startup payroll).
This is where you come in. Please click here (you’ll be directed to the Seeds website) if you are interested in donating to Seeds on either a one-time or monthly basis. You can either give online or through the mail.
I am the Executive Director of Seeds. Our board consists of myself, another pastor from my church (Crossroads), an elder from Trinity Church, the local outreach director at Trinity Church, the former Compassion Ministries Director from Riverview Church, as well as the Director of the Lansing City Rescue Mission.
Continual donations will allow us to not only launch more pods, but also us to fund Phase 2, which is the full gamut of community development initiatives for our employees and our target neighborhood in Lansing. These will depend on the needs of our employees and our neighborhood but are likely to include things such as housing, a daycare, a non-profit grocery store, and more. All of this things will have their own cash flow and will be self-sustaining once launched, with donations needed to launch them. The beauty of Seeds is that every initiative only hires people out of poverty and develops them holistically, including intentional emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. Browse through the Seeds website to learn much more about our strategy.
Besides giving donations, there are tons of ways you can get involved on a volunteer basis. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about this or follow Seeds on Facebook to keep up on ways you can get involved, both now in Phase 1 and as our future initiatives unfold.
1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
Please pray for us!