Thrive in 5 is pleased to welcome Dr. Eric Hallett as the contributor to the Intellectual/Leadership domain. Dr. Hallett serves as the new district superintendent of the Central Canada District of The Wesleyan Church after many years of faithful and effective service as a local church pastor.

Thinking About Pastors and Poverty Alleviation 

Every pastor experiences the call or visit from a member of the community seeking financial help. Every pastor feels the tension of wondering if their response was effective in terms of the mission of the church to make disciples in the framework of the reign of Jesus. First John 3:17 states: “If any one of you sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?”

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert address this tension in their book called When Helping Hurts. Here are five takeaways they offer for developing a theological/philosophical and practical framework for alleviating poverty without hurting the poor, yourself or your church.

  1. Understand the four types of poverty. Sin has broken four key relationships creating four types of poverty: 1. Spiritual poverty (rejecting God, worshiping false gods or embracing materialism); 2. Poverty of being (low self-esteem or self-aggrandizement); 3. Relational poverty (exploitation and abuse of others); 4. Poverty of stewardship for creation (systems resulting in massive wealth imbalances in the world as well as environmental damage to the earth). What are the ways your church is already ministering to all four types of poverty? Are there new ways your church can adopt?
  2. Adopt a holistic definition of poverty. As leaders of local churches, we are most familiar with addressing spiritual poverty directly. Sometimes it is necessary to address one of the other three types of poverty first so we gain the credibility to address the core spiritual issues. In the grand scheme, every person is in some type of poverty. A holistic definition of poverty recognizes that poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Recognizing our primary calling to make disciples of Jesus in order to address spiritual poverty, can you think of ways you can share Jesus while addressing the other areas of poverty?
  3. Embrace a relational approach to material poverty. It is always a temptation to over-simplify the causes of material poverty. Understanding the four types of poverty and the fact they are caused by relational breakdowns with God, ourselves, others and creation gives us a better framework to understand people in need. How do we work to alleviate material poverty? By working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work. Consider making a list of diagnostic questions you can ask people seeking material help so you can assess and address core relational needs. What questions would you ask that would help them clarify their core relational needs?
  4. Discern the situation of the materially poor in your community. It is vital when faced with a person requesting material aid to determine if that situation calls for relief, rehabilitation or development. Relief is necessary in immediate emergencies, rehabilitation is called for as soon as the emergency is over, and development is the process of both the helped and the helpers working together to draw closer to God, self, others and creation. Can you recall situations in your church where relief was offered when a better solution might have been rehabilitation or development? How can you learn from past experience?
  5. Recognize God has gone ahead of us. We are ambassadors of the Saviour, not the Saviour himself. We know as Wesleyans that prevenient grace goes before us and the Holy Spirit is working already with people living in material poverty. A helpful approach in material poverty alleviation is to begin with conducting an inventory of the tangible and intangible assets of the people who need help and then cooperating with the Holy Spirit in working together to maximize those assets: think of how God has blessed every person with certain innate talents and how recognizing those talents as assets can help a person help themselves. What steps can you begin to take to recognize the assets a person has so they can begin to help themselves?

To learn more about helping people in need, see the following resources:

Corbett, Steve and Fikkert, Brian (2009). When Helping Hurts, How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Myers, L. Bryant (1999). Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books

Kretzmann, John P and McKnight, John L. (1993) Building Communities from the Inside Out: A path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Chicago: ACTA Publications.

Intellectual contributor: Dr. Eric Hallett, district superintendent of the Central Canada District of The Wesleyan Church.

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus

Curator of content: Dave Higle