Brad Watson asked a really good question on Twitter:
If you engage in a geographically centered mission in an affluent area, how will you care for the poor and welcome them into your community?
— Brad Watson (@BradAWatson)
I saw it right before bed and it has been messing with me ever since. It’s something I wrestle with because I live and serve in an affluent area. How do you care for the poor and welcome them into your community if you live in an affluent area?
Well, I’m not sure I have the answers, but here are my thoughts from the last several years as I’ve processed this.
Own your affluence
So many of us don’t think of ourselves as affluent. None of the worldwide statistics support this though. I know not everyone reading this is making end’s meet, and I get that. I really do. I coordinate pastoral care and benevolence, so I know people are struggling. I serve in an affluent area, but that doesn’t mean everyone is affluent. But for those of us who have a roof over our head, food in the fridge, and air conditioning keeping us comfortable, we need to own our affluence.
Use your affluence from God to bless people in the name of God
Owning our affluence and accepting that reality should lead us to ask why we have resources. Why, out of all the poor places in the world right now, did God choose to have you be born in your country and live in your town or city? It’s not a mystery. When God blessed Israel, He had other nations in mind that He wanted to bless through them. Yes, it was about Israel enjoying the blessings too, but God was primarily interested in spreading His glory throughout the nations by blessing the world through Israel. The Great Commission makes this clear. Whatever affluence we have, we should be using it to bless the poor in the name of God.
Spend time among the poor
More practically speaking, we have to spend time among the poor if we want to care for them and invite them into our communities. The biggest hurdle to caring for the poor in affluent areas is that you are so isolated from them. Yet, even in a wealthy town like mine, there is always an organization, church, or non-profit that is serving the poor and working poor. Seek them out. Give them time and resources. Join in their cause. As long as what they’re doing isn’t hostile to the name and mission of Christ, why not join them? We can’t minister to people we don’t understand. We must be serving the poor where they are.
Open your home
Here’s something that would make a big splash in an affluent neighborhood: inviting a poor person or family to move into your home. And why don’t more of us consider this? Jesus’ teaching is laden with instructions to care for the poor, minister to the down and out, and to be hospitable to the stranger. Particularly in suburban affluence, many people have homes with extra bedrooms, bonus rooms, and basements, so why not use those homes for ministry? Using homes for ministry has been a part of the Church since the very beginning. Just because we live in an individualistic age doesn’t mean we should be exempt from that history. Thankfully, we’re living in a time where this ministry form is having a bit of a renaissance (at least in theory).
Move to the “poor part of town”
Here’s another counter-cultural idea that would raise eyebrows in your affluent area: sell your house and move closer to what is condescendingly called the “poor part of town.” Every town and city has at least one area like this. But in our affluence we actively avoid living close to such areas, citing crime, poor schools, and sagging real estate prices. These sound reasonable enough until you ask yourself if those would sound like good reasons to Jesus. What kind of witness to the name of Jesus would it be if more believers sold their homes, moved closer to poverty, and used their affluence to enrich the lives of those around them? A pretty compelling one if you ask me. And it sounds dangerously close to the early Christianity we all claim to long for.
Cultivate church gatherings that welcome the poor
Ask yourself: If I were to bring a poor person to church with me today, what would their experience be like? Would they stand out? Would they be welcomed? Would people talk to them? Would the service make sense to them?
These might be tough questions, depending on your answers, but we have to ask them. If we’re surrounded by affluence, over time we’ll only be able to relate to affluence and everything we do will assume people come from affluence. But the Church should be marked by a counter-cultural blending of people. A people that no longer think in societal hierarchies or act according to cultural norms. The day of Pentecost brought together people from countries and people groups that actively hated each other, yet the world was turned upside down by the way they loved one another. Could our churches facilitate this same counter-culture today?
Host community meals
I got this idea from Ecclesia Houston. They do something called a “simple feast” where they gather to share a pot-luck style meal with their homeless brothers and sisters. No money required, you just show up. Oh, and they do it every week. I love this. Churches in wealthy areas often have facilities that are well-equipped to do this sort of thing. Why not use them to serve the poor and integrate them into the community? The hardest part would be getting the word out to those who would benefit from it, but surely that’s something that could be addressed through networking with other organizations in your area.
What ideas do you have? Let me know on Twitter.