Compassion and the Poor
John Wesley taught that a means of grace available to us is serving the needy. Methodists have strong emphasis on worship and the sacraments but our heritage is the work of holiness and ministry to the poor. These are essentials in the teachings of Christ. His followers work to be faithful to them.
In present day Canadian society, government agencies and professional organisations have taken up the responsibility for the poor often leaving Christians perplexed as to what to do. Following are a number of resources that give insight and guidance to pastors and local congregations. This is not an attempt to present quick “how to” methods but to give insight into the theology and practise of ministry to the needy through the local church. This list will be updated as other materials are researched and become available.
1) Thomas C. Oden – Pastoral Theology
This book includes an excellent chapter on “The Care of the Poor”. It presents insights gathered from the Church’s teachings and practise over the centuries. Oden offers helpful suggestions in establishing and building a ministry to the poor through the local congregation. It is timely and useful without playing on guilt. His premise is decidedly Wesleyan in that the ultimate aim of ministry to the poor is to bring healing to people
2) Robert J. Sider – Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
The foreword to this book by Robert A. Seiple, President of World Vision, Inc. provides key insights into the value of this book.
Rich Christians has never been an easy book to read, because it asks so much of us: the courage to change, nobility of spirit, the willingness to give-not our wealth, but our very lives and the text continues to ask more of us with each reading, no matter where any of us are in our pilgrimages, no matter how much we have given till now.
As C. S. Lewis once put it, ‘Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.
Perhaps more than any other book, Rich Christians has helped Christians make that intimate connection between millions of hungry mouths and their own futures, their own families’ futures. We are all called to courage-not only those whose bodies are hungry for food, but also those whose souls are hungry for God. Either we are filled together, when we partake of mercy and justice, or else we starve together.
In my own life, the first edition of Rich Christians proved to be the most pivotal book in my personal Christian journey – not a rule book, but a road map. Rich Christians introduced me to Christian holism ‘ which is to say, the totality of the richness of our gospel. Evangelism took on new dimension – the entirety of life, word, sign, and deed. My obligations to humanity have increased because of that first reading. But the God I worship has increased in stature even as my faith has become profoundly more relevant. Rich Christians’ call to simplicity, to take up for the most defenseless, becomes possible only as Christ moves from the boundaries of our lives into the center, where He calls us not to political fervor, but to new life. Christ entrusts His own gifts to us – an immeasurable responsibility to be like Him in extravagant outpourings of love and generosity in a world of increasing suffering, injustice, and moral catastrophe.
With this new edition of Ricb Cbristians, Dr. Sider continues his impressive legacy to the Church on the cusp of the Twenty-first Century. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, may God “strengthen our courage to act and accomplish something on the earth.”
3) Jean Vanier – Becoming Human
Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, has written an excellent book entitled Becoming Human (1998). The book does not enumerate a program or method to reach those in need. It does give one pause to think about why our reactions to the poor or needy continue to reverberate with ‘they’ and ‘us’. In the third chapter he writes,
“How do we move from exclusion to inclusion? When I talk about ‘inclusion’ of people, whether they are those with disabilities, beggars, like Lazarus, or people suffering with AIDS, I am not talking only about starting up special schools or residences or creating good soup kitchens or new hospitals. These are, of course, necessary. I am not just saying that we should be kind to such people because they are human beings. Nor, is it a question of ‘normalizing’ them in order that they can be ‘like us’, participate in church services, and go to the movies and local swimming pool. When I speak of the inclusion of those who are marginalized I am affirming that they have a gift to all, to each of us as individuals, to the larger forms of human organisation, and to society in general.”
This is an excellent source for developing sermon concepts and ministry rationale in a local church.
4) David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America
David Shipler, noted author and scholar, states in his book:
“Most of the people I write about in this book do not have the luxury of rage. They are caught in exhausting struggles. Their wages do not lift them far enough from poverty to improve their lives, and their lives, in turn, hold them back. The term by which they are usually described, “working poor,” should be an oxymoron. Nobody who works should be poor in America.”
The book deals with America but has much to say to Canada. Shipler uses the stories of many individuals to show the despair of people struggling to simply survive from day to day. In the telling he presents ideas and recommendations to make real changes.
5) M. Douglas Meeks, The Portion of the Poor: Good News to the Poor in the Wesleyan Tradition
On the cover, Methodist theologian Thomas Runyon writes:
“The poor of his time heard John Wesley gladly, and these essays help to explain why. Here we see that Wesley’s approach was twofold: not only did he share their sufferings and call upon Christians and the state to relieve their plight, but he also empowered the poor by communicating to them their value in the eyes of God, mediating the divine love directed toward them. This volume points the way for the church today to recover this twofold ministry.”
6) Bryant L. Myers, ed. Working with the Poor: New Insights and Learnings from Development Practitioners
Experienced development practitioners (from World Vision) reflect on:
Participatory learning and action
The Bible and transformational development
Sustainable economic development
Community transformation in the urban context
Community development and peacebuilding
7) Also See John Wesley’s Sermons:
a) “The Danger of Riches”
b) “On Riches”
c) “On the Danger of Increasing Riches”
d) “Causes of Inefficacy of Christianity”
e) “On Visiting the Sick”
f) “On Zeal”
1) Evangelical Fellowship of Canada: http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/
E.F.C. has developed some very good resources for ministry to the poor. This includes the document entitled, “Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Background Paper on the Bible, Poverty, and Government in Contemporary Canada” (approved August 26th, 1999).
2) National Anti-Poverty Organisation: http://www.napo-onap.ca/
A non-governmental, non-partisan, advocacy organisation of low-income Canadians and others concerned about the issues affecting poor people. It takes the position that it is a voice for Canada’s poor and is an excellent source for current statistics and news releases on poverty in Canada.
3) Sojourners: http://www.sojo.net/
A progressive Christian group which focuses on social and political issues of the day.
4) Mennonite Central Committee: http://www.mennonitecc.ca/
One of the finest Christian relief and development organizations.