Wednesday, April 16, 2014

SHARE!

(From a book not yet published)
    “All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…(v.34) There were no needy persons among them.  For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35) NIV

    Among Christians it is not uncommon to see people give generously to missions, to build church buildings, to employ pastors and staff.  These are indeed often worthy of our support.  Where is the pattern of the early church among us in sharing within our own congregations to make sure there are no needy among us?  Where is the pattern of the early church to share with other churches who had needy people as we see described in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15?

    Some Christians have decided to live in community in order to try and live out this idea, some have attempted to live simply and set a level on their own consumption in order to share more.  Some congregations have partnered with other churches, across town and across the world, to become supporting congregations.  All of these things can be wonderful, and they can also have temptations and problems.

   We must always be careful not to become legalistic and self-righteous, especially in specifics that the Scripture has not commanded.  The godly principles of Scripture must be applied by all of us but sometimes these matters are left to our own conscience.  We need to be careful not to quickly condemn others because we judge them on how they spend their money. Yet, I am afraid we often err in doing little or nothing to stop our headlong pursuit of self-centered materialism.  When I say self-centered I also speak of whole congregations that simply endorse selfish living.

    I have been the recipient of many acts of mercy to me personally, to my family, to my congregation and people.  I confess that at one time I had a very wary eye toward the wealthy.  I had not known many of them and it was easy for me to live in stereotypes.  I did not trust them. Thankfully, over the years I have met people with lots of money who seemed bent on trying to give all of it away.  I have seen them attempt to do so wisely.  It is too easy to want to be friends of the wealthy, to please them, to seek to exploit a friendship for personal favors.  I can’t imagine how hard it is to be met with a new request by so-called friends every day or so. 

    I have had to fight within myself to guard my own integrity, that I would not accept personal favors simply because I wanted or even needed something. I have tried not to take advantage but to live under authority, with my salary published by my church, and to channel money to the truly needy.    I am grateful for the many acts of love toward myself; I hope I have received this with humility and honesty.

     Those of us in ministry have the opportunity to “poor mouth” so that it seems we always need a new car, a new suit, a better home, or a free meal.  Since I have had the forum of the pulpit I knew that I could steer the generosity of wealthy members to help me and my family.  They would often have done so with joy in believing they were helping “God’s man, God’s servant.”  God forbid I would steal from the widow, from the orphan, from the unemployed.  I t is especially important for those in ministry, in leadership, to be examples of not taking advantage of their positions, of practicing material generosity and not simply examples of consumption. 

    I don’t believe God calls on us to despise the rich, but nor does he want us to suck up to them so that they would fail to be held to accountability.  The wealthy need to live in justice and generosity; it is a blessing for them to do so.  God will give them even more in this life and the life to come.  All of us need to learn to share, from the widow with her mite, to the working poor, to the middle class, to the professional, to the scary rich.

A call comes from the State Department of Human Services.  “We hear that your church is able to help people with food and utility bills, is that correct?”   “Yes,” our full time Deacon answers.  “We have a lady whose lights have been shut off, but we have no designated funds to cover this contingency, can you help her?”   Our Deacon suggests that they send her to our office so we can meet her and find out what she needs.  She is a widow, she works cleaning the local library at night, she has no one in her family able to help her, she had been out of work and lost income.  She walks a mile home after work in the middle of the night since no buses run then.
     She comes to the office and tells our Deacon her story.  He tells her that, yes, we can pay this bill for her, but we could help her so much more if she could come and visit our church and worship with us.  The Deacon arranges a ride to pick her up, she begins to attend.  Eventually she joins the church, and not long after she starts coming the pastor makes an appeal for church members to give money to provide scholarships to send some men to a conference.  After the service this widow walks forward to give the pastor an envelope holding fifty dollars.  She was the first to respond, the first to give.

    One of the things I know that many of the poor who come to our church for help don’t know,  yet, is that if they were to become part of our congregation they would never again have to be hungry.  Surely every church ought to be able to say that.  In America this is possible, we have enough to share, to at least feed our own people.  If we really tried we could make sure every congregation that we believed was preaching the Gospel and faithful to the Word would always have enough to care for their poorest members.  We cannot do this without an attitude and lifestyle of sharing, and sometimes that means a radical disposing and distribution of our assets.
  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) NIV


   We need, our children really need, a call to something greater than themselves.  Many Christians are very sacrificial for their children, but I am afraid sometimes this is in reality just indulgence and an extension of self.  We must take care of our own families, but someday our children must rise up to be people of character, and if they been given a life where everything has revolved around them then how will they know how to share, and how to give their lives away for the kingdom of God?

    So give, find some worthy young person who is from a single parent home, some kid who has no resources and give him a part time job, give him a bike, give him or her a scholarship to camp or a good school.  Find some poor church and give them books for their young people, set up summer jobs at other Christian ministries for them. Go to your pastor and tell him you can buy a new set of clothes for any middle school kid who can help with the offering once a month, and buy the whole outfit from shoes up.  Tell your pastor you will match any money for adoptions up to a thousand dollars for anyone in the church.  Go to your Deacons and tell them they never have to worry about having enough food in the pantry to give to the hungry.  Give, and make yourself glad.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

SPIRITUAL AND PRAGMATIC EXPECTATIONS FOR PROGRESS IN CHURCH PLANTING AMONG THE POOR

  "Nothing is too hard for God" is a good place to start in doing what seems impossible, or at the very least, hard. Planting churches among the poor that grow to be solid, sound, and a blessing to their communities is not easy. God has been at work among the poor for a long time, praise his name!  This is true for the inner city poor as well as for new immigrants and refugees. There have always been churches in poor communities, and sometimes a lot of them. If that is true then what is the problem and why are we even having this discussion?

    There are several compelling issues to prompt a discussion about pursuing church planting among the poor, at least for me.  One is simply the issue of missions and the call upon Jesus (and consequently us) to preach the Gospel to the poor; are all the poor saved?  Another issue for church planting is the issue of justice and the consequent issues of reconciliation, economic and material opportunity, and deliverance from injustice.  Theology has results, and if the theology is bad it produces ideas and patterns that hurt people.  So, another issue in all of church planting is whether or not the people being gathered are being discipled under Biblical teaching, and is it sound Biblical theology, or not?

    Have you got "good religion?" To put it bluntly, we need more urban missionaries to bring a better Gospel than a lot of people have carried into the cities already.  Certainly this sounds presumptuous, but we believe what we believe out of conscience, and it is observable that there has been a lot of "bad religion" which now seeks to defend its territory.  All should enter such ministry with humility, a willingness to learn from others who are there, to learn how to be servants, but we cannot acquiesce to the conditions that exist.  More of the same will not do.

    There are dangers for any people receiving missionaries, and there are of course other dangers for them to have no missionary at all.  Our goal in planting churches among the poor is to have those evangelists (indigenous or not) be people of integrity, people of good theology, people of sound cultural intelligence. Missionaries who lack these things can cause damage to folk. We would like to start with the assumption that they are spiritual people who know God, and whose lives reflect Christ.

    Ministry among and to the poor needs to have some standard as to whether or not it is effective, helpful, glorying to God, and life changing for the poor.  There are many ministries to and for the poor in the United States.  A good many of them might be classified as "sustaining" people in their condition while giving them some religious faith and hope but with no strategy to change the condition of folk.  Worse still are some that "do" for the poor without changing people hearts  or economic conditions.  Obviously if someone is hungry and they are given a meal at the moment of their hunger it can help keep them going, so with any particular kind of relief given to them.  There is a place for that, but it should be either as a starting place or at sustaining places in the relationship along a slope of growth and improvement for the person receiving the help.  If there is no "upward slope", then that ministry is not really helpful or effective; it is not life changing.

    There are too many "ministries" with no strategy for relationship, no strategy for the growth of people, families, or communities.  So, I would offer a few questions to help anyone in their evaluation of an urban ministry, or ministry to the poor, for their continued support or involvement.  These are not necessarily in their order of importance:

1.  Is this ministry focused on any other personality than that of Jesus?  Is it a money maker for the founder, leader, or pastor or is tangible help flowing to the people?
2.  Is there an articulation of the Gospel to the people, are people being called to faith, are they being gathered around a submission to the Scriptures?
3.  Is there a purposeful raising up of indigenous folk in spiritual leadership for the ministry?  Where are the leaders?
4.  Is mercy given with accountability, in relationship, and with wisdom so it doesn't make people dependent or cynical?
5.  Is there a "holistic" sensitivity to the condition of people and their families, with an awareness of their spiritual, economic, ethnic, cultural, and neighborhood context?
6.  Is there a reconciling aspect to the ministry, without attempting to lock people into a "ghettoized" view of community or poverty ministry, where they become ingrown and cut off from the wider Kingdom and community of God?
7.  Are people being visibly lifted out of misery, or simply sustained in it with occasional, crisis, or seasonal relief?  Are individuals growing in social, literary, vocational, and economic capital so they can thrive on their own?
8.  Is there a church being formed, whether it be small or not, whether it have adequate resources for its own sustainment or not?  Is it meeting for worship, is it preaching the Word in truth, is there loving accountability, are the sacraments being celebrated?  Is it growing at all?  The gathering of children should not be despised.
9.  Is this Christian community caring for each other, caring for the spiritual life of their own families, friends, and neighbors?  Are the poor learning to care for others that are poor?
10.  Is this ministry gaining respect from outside supporters, where in developing its own voice and its own aspirations and goals is being listened to, or is it only treated in a  paternalistic way and used simply as a ministry opportunity by outside interests?

    I would encourage you to examine any ministry with which you are involved with these questions, and to press for the better as simply opposed to what has been.  Remember, poor communities which are being evangelized will take much longer to arrive at self-sustainment in being a congregation.  This doesn't mean they shouldn't be self-governing, and even self-propagating prior to the day when they need no outside help.

   Congregations in very depressed and marginalized communities need at least ten years, or more, of outside help without a barrage of constant badgering or criticism.  At the same time any donor has a right to ask for a measure of progress, and maybe the questions above will help give some markers for that progress.

 

    

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WHAT ARE REASONABLE METRICS FOR THE CONTINUATION OF A CHURCH PLANT?

   Some of this may or may not be applicable to all church plants, but here I specifically discuss those churches being planted among the poor or difficult populations. 
  
    What is reasonable in the continuation of support for a church that doesn't seem to be moving quickly to being self-supporting?   We have a persistent model for church plants among middle class folks.  The larger the core group the faster they move to self-sufficiency, the larger the core group the more internal resources they have, and the more attractive they are to planting networks.  Success breeds support.

    Many of these middle class church plants rely on transfer growth, beginning with a committed core that from the beginning already gives a planter..."church."   A group to which to preach, volunteers ready to work, a congregation ready to disciple and lead.  The sense of momentum in a peer generation church with urban ambiance, professional quality music, child care, parking, and facilities, and a competent if not excellent communicator seems to be a guarantor of success. 

    Along with this is the benefit to the church planter of a pretty secure financial package.  If the planter is part of a percentage network where he can begin with a hefty investment from outside, plus whatever he raises, plus whatever a sizable core group can give he won't have to be worrying about money all the time, and in fact can invest the surplus in staff, equipment, facilities, and marketing.  Pre-support breeds success.

    What happens when the target of this new church plant is the poor?  What happens when there is no core group, or a very small one?  What happens if and when there is some outside support but as the ministry nears the three to five year window there is still not a strong enough financial base or core to continue the work without continued outside help?  What happens if middle class folk, who already know Christ, who already believe in tithing refuse to align themselves with such a work?  Can it survive?

    What happens when a planter goes to an unreached or non-believing group that aren't immediately drawn to something called "church.?"  What happens when he tries to gather people who don't know what giving sacrificially means as they are trying to survive financially already?   What happens if that pastor is so committed to this neglected community that he is willing to be bi-vocational, but loses the respect of his peers for not being able to make a go of it like normal churches do? 

    If our metrics are materialistic that says something I believe about our values.  Not that growth is in anyway wrong, in fact growth is what we want, but from what source?  When Peter preached and three thousand were saved, I think it must have meant new conversions, not three thousand former members of Southern Baptist churches that had old music.  When Paul planted a church among the pagans, or the heathen, or just people who had never heard of Jesus, I wonder where he got his core group from and how he made it financially?  Maybe he made tents or something, maybe he was sent gifts from churches that were established already but knew how to share, maybe he took risks and lived by faith.

    If we are going to succeed in preaching the Gospel to the poor, and in planting churches among them (and not just using them for our mission and mercy experiences) I think we will have to change our metrics.  We will have to support church planters for at least ten years, we will have to give them that help from outside of the communities they are trying to reach and it will have to be not only adequate but meaningfully sufficient.   And we will have to send in talented, competent, and passionate men because the harder work takes the greater man, not the lesser.

    Or, middle class churches in the city will have to learn to really reach the poor and include them in their new congregations, make them welcome, disciple them out of poverty, and raise them up in leadership.  Either way, I think we will have to be radicalized about what the Gospel means, and we will have to stop working from the same old materialistic expectations and start moving toward spiritual ones.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

QUESTIONING PASTORS ON THEIR STEWARDSHIP OF THEIR CONGREGATIONS ENERGY

    One of the precious resources of a congregation is its energy.  A Biblical term for this might be "zeal."   Energy is a combination of both the time members have to give and their passion and tenacity to engage and finish the work.  Pastors have to be the stewards of that energy.  Part of the pastor's job is to protect his people from expending their energy in ways and places that give them no spiritual profit, and no profit to the Kingdom of God.

    It should become obvious to the leadership of a church when that energy is flagging.  Members give less time, they are less than enthusiastic to participate, and things that pastors and leaders wish would get done, don't.

    Pastors give various answers to why this is happening.  Sometimes it is seen as disobedience, just plain spiritual rebellion or a lack of faith.  Sometimes it is seen as ministry overload, the people have been trying to do too much; which can be caused for various reasons, such as competitive ministry leaders, bad "works' type theology,  church traditional activities which are unecessary.

    Members can give other answers, such as the pastor and leaders are simply piling up too many obligations and activities.  Sometimes members see it as a justified rebellion against spiritual manipulation, whether using guilt or appeals to love Jesus more.  Sometimes members see it as poor leadership that gives them no meaningful or believable motivation.  Most times I don't believe members see it at all, they just react with their feet, which either move or won't.

    There are some questions I believe pastors need to ask themselves in analyzing how they are stewarding the energy of their people:
1.  What is a congregation for anyway, what is it supposed to be doing?
     If the pastor thinks their job is simply to listen more to him, to attend faithfully and give more money, one might begin to think the pastor doesn't have a very large view of the Kingdom of God.

2.  Is it a legitimate response to the need of energy stewardship to ask nothing of the congregation as a congregation, but to leave it to them if they feel they should or want to do something?
    If a pastor takes a "minimalist" strategy he should examine honestly whether he is merely justifying a refusal to lead or his own laziness.

3.  Is it legitimate to only ask the congregation to do things for themselves, for the worship service, Sunday School, music, Bible studies, etc.?
   Even here people can overwork or feel burdened down.  The call for more discipleship can simply mean more meetings and study time, and is studying the only way to discipleship?

4.  Does a congregation have any responsibility to evangelize, to do acts of mercy, to participate in the life of its community, to participate in missions?
    How does the call to do these outward focused ministries combine with the necessity of interior and sustaining work for the life of the congregation?

5.  Does the pastor know how to delegate, to help people identify their gifts, to help them discipline their lives to work where they best fit, to call them to rest and sabbath and to not overcommit?  Is he an example of not overcommitting?  Is the pastor able to help the people know the balance and combination of knowing, being, and doing?

6.  Does the pastor lay out spiritual and practical reasons why jobs need to be done?  Does he explain how ministries achieve the vision and goals of the church?  Does the leadership seek to eliminate those activities which do not accomplish the overall goals of the congregation but expend the scarce energy of the people for no purpose?  Does the leadership give the congregation missions they can accomplish and then gives them opportunity to celebrate in their success?

7.  Does the pastor know the difference between physical exhausation and burnout?  Can he see the anger in people that makes them resistant to more appeals for more work when they feel slighted, abused, and badgered.  In contrast can he appreciate the seemingly inexhaustible energy of those who are motivated by faith, love, and joy?  Can he see these things in himself?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

ENCOURAGED IN THE CONTEXT OF VIOLENCE

     Recently I had the privilege to meet a victim.  I noticed that he had a patch over his eye and I asked him what happened.  He began to explain to me that he wore the patch because people seemed to have a hard time looking at what was left.  Between what he told me and what others filled in evidently his eye had been shot out, so there wan't any eye left.  He, and the three others with him, had been coming home from church when someone opened up on their car.  Fifty gunshots later two were dead and this young man had lost his eye. Somewhere in this terrible tragedy he did catch sight of Jesus.

    He explained to me that he hadn't been living right, but now he was trying to do right by his child, his girlfriend, and the Lord.  So, he is preparing to get married and raise their child as a family.  It was all a mistake, wrong car, not who the shooters were looking for, but people were dead and wounded just the same.

    Recently one of our church planters asked for prayer because a lady that had been coming to church had just been murdered, by her grandson.  This pastor was preparing the funeral sermon, getting ready to preach to a family grieving and traumatized.   The grandmother had taken this grandson in to live with her, but they had fought from time to time and finally she told him he had to leave.  He waited until she was asleep to cut her throat.

   The Sunday after the funeral I heard a woman rise to testify that she was in church that day because of the love she witnessed from this church (the congregation that had ministered to the family, that prepared the food for the repast, that had preached the Gospel at the funeral.)  She said she had felt called by God to come.

   Violence doesn't encourage me, especially when I find it to be inexplicable.  It is probably a mark of how jaded I am that too often I just simply accept it as a daily constant in our culture. We live in a time when people live in communities where violence is a reality and a constant threat.  Occasionally I am shocked, but most often I am calloused.  There is so much violence that it just seems to make me tired, and aware of the possible play on words,  I become deadened to its shame.  We, all of us in this country, should be ashamed at the volume of violence to which we have become inured.

    The stories above however make me feel encouraged, in the context of violence.  That context is the place that most of  us want to escape from, where we don't want to live.  It is one reason people keep moving from neighborhoods that have an aura of menace, attempting to find some peaceful glen or pasture, some beatific cul de sac where tricycles can wheel unhindered, toys left on the lawn without fear of theft, and the noise of explosions is left for the Fourth of July.

    I am encouraged because in the very place that most of us with sense would want to flee, Jesus has come.  He has come through his people, through his Church.  Violence in this world usually makes no sense, there was always another way, another option.  What does bring sense in the midst of nonsense is love, care, kindness, compassion.  It resettles the world, it redirects the grieving, the victims, the wounded.

     If the church is not there, close by, with its people not present to be the Body of Christ, then what is left for those neighborhoods, those families, except rage, despair, hardness, revenge, emptiness, and life unexplained? These stories happened in neighborhoods of Tulsa and Durham, but the violence is repeated in so many marginalized and depressed communities around our nation.  What is not always repeated is the witness of a church that came because others have left, and came for just these kind of folk. May their tribe increase, and may the Prince of Peace extend his reign to bitter places. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TO LOVE THE POOR YOU MUST LOVE SOMEONE ELSE MORE!

Sometimes I feel like people put you in a box, specifically me.  I feel this way when it seems they think I can only speak about the poor, or pigeon hole my ministry as one that is a song with only one note.  I am not insulted that people might look upon me as an advocate for the poor, or for justice.  I am indeed thankful to be thought of in that way, but it would be a mistake to think that somehow that flows from some sense of altruism in myself, or even anger from my own background.

    If I love the poor, and I want to do that, it is because Jesus loves me.  His love for me has created a passion inside of myself to love him.  Non-believers might find that hard to contemplate as they try to penetrate the passions of religion, but for Christians the idea of loving Jesus is a very intimate, personal, and real experience.  I love Jesus, and consider him to be real and personal and interested in my life; every part of my life.  I love Jesus because I believe he died for me to rescue me from the just wrath of God for my sinful self, and his death delivered me from the bondage I was in to my own sins.  I love him because I believe he defeated death and has given me eternal life.  He has given me a lot, and everyday since he came into my life I have experienced the love and faithfulness of God in taking care of me.

    I don't think Jesus made me lucky, I think he is far more personal than luck.  His blessings don't mean I will never catch a cold or cancer, that my loved ones won't die, that I won't have trouble.  I think, and know from my experience, that his love means he will always be with me whatever comes.

    As I read the Bible and learn more about Jesus, I know that he loves and cares about the poor.  This is so important to him that he even equates himself with them when he outlines the judgment in Matthew 25.  He calls those who didn't treat the poor as if they were him "goats."  Then he casts them into hell.  He teaches us there that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, that we are doing it to him.  So, if I love Jesus I have no choice but to care for the poor.  Not if my love for him is real and genuine.

    I read one interpretation of Matthew 25 as not applicable to Christians in this present age.  This of course was presented with absolutely no textual evidence from that passage at all but as part of a broader scheme of interpreting the Bible.  I just imagine a big slap in the back of the head from Jesus to whoever wrote that.  I shouldn't be surprised when some try to interpret Scripture so as to rob it of any conviction in our lives and practice today.  It did make me angry.

   I don't love the poor because they are innately loveable.  I certainly wasn't when I was poor.  I was stealing, lying, greedy, selfish, and uncaring about others, even my own family.  I desperately needed Jesus to change me, and he did.  I still struggle with my own sins, but I know who I belong to now, and I do love him, and want very much to be faithful to him.

    I know that I cannot motivate people toward justice just because I make them feel bad about injustice.  I know that I cannot make them love the poor, or move into the neighborhoods of the poor, or dispense mercy to the poor, or create industry or jobs that will employ the poor, or practice medicine among the poor because I somehow touch their sympathy and compassion.  The truth be told our self interest often wins over against our feelings of compassion.  What can change us?  More appropriately the question is, "who can change us?"

   His name is Jesus, and my passion to help bring about justice, reconcilation, and mercy comes because I love him, and know how much he loved me, and how he satisfied the justice of God for me, and gives me mercy everyday.  So, my appeal to folks is not some cause, not some constant banging of a drum for what I think people ought to do.  It is what Jesus is about, and if you don't love the poor the real and present, and the real and future, question is,  "how can you say you love Jesus and not show mercy to the poor?"  What evidence is there that Jesus is living in us if we can't see Jesus in the lives of our poorer brothers?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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.