How can the body of Christ help to alleviate poverty?
In order to alleviate poverty the church needs to gain a better understanding of poverty, before we can alleviate it in the fullest sense. Pastor Mike McKinley addresses a few misconceptions regarding how we approach poverty.
“When we think of poverty in America, we tend to think strictly in terms of access to resources and programs, such as food, shelter, medicine, etc. As a result we normally think about poverty alleviation in those terms, how do we get resources out to the poor? How do we get them food, medicine and shelter?”
Although providing food and shelter to the poor and needy can help meet their practical needs, Pastor McKinley reminds us that people who are in poverty have spiritual and emotional needs as well. He references the results of an extensive survey taken of those who are experiencing poverty.
“The poor are actually describing what it’s like to be poor. Overwhelmingly, they describe their experience of poverty in terms of words like invisibility, hopelessness, meaninglessness, shame, etc. Things like food, medicine and shelter are important, but they won’t address those issues fundamentally.”
One of the greatest ways the church can help to alleviate poverty is to share the gospel and remind people who they are in Christ.
“The gospel of the Lord Jesus, embodied in a local church, that’s really what it is that God has given local communities, and poor communities, to help them with their experience of poverty.”
Jesus will not only provide our practical needs, but He is the provider of our spiritual needs too. We need to keep this truth in mind while we are presenting the gospel to the poor and needy. Pastor McKinley expands,
“If all we do is talk about the gospel in terms of relieving your felt needs, then we really missed out on really what Christ came to do. He didn’t come to simply provide food and shelter for the poor, but He came to give new life, hope, meaning, and to take away our shame…all those kinds of things that poor people experience.”
Mike McKinley (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in Sterling, Virginia. He is the author of a number of books, including Am I Really a Christian?, Church Planting Is for Wimps, and Church in Hard Places.