“This is the time when the church can begin to see itself as more than just a purveyor of compassionate service, but also as a catalyst of just and fruitful economies. My hope is that this movement will become a turning point: that the wealthiest church in history will awaken to the reality that its job is not just saving souls, but also bringing economic wholeness to struggling souls too long resigned to unending poverty.” – Robert Lupton in Chapter Three of Charity Detox
A Decent Job
What would our communities look like if everyone who was capable of working had the opportunity for employment that paid enough to pay the bills? Decent, well-paying jobs have got to be a basic building block of transformation for those who are struggling to make it, as well as for cities, regions, and nations that wrestle to address poverty. It almost seems too obvious to state, even if well-paying employment alone will not create the institutions and infrastructure that lead to health in all dimensions of a society.
Jobs are a key to moving beyond poverty. But are those jobs the job of the church?
Certainly the United Methodist Church that baptized, confirmed, and ordained me has not promoted local economic development in the congregations of which I have been a part. I have heard inspiring stories of Christians of other stripes getting involved in small business creation, but I have not personally witnessed congregations focused on job creation and I am starting to wonder why not.
Can the church truly claim to be witnessing to the fullness of the gospel without creating opportunities for those in poverty to find a way out?
What is the role of the church?
Lately I just keep coming back to James: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2: 15-17) To supply a person’s bodily needs today, but to ignore the ongoing nature of such needs seems not only short-sighted, but just too small. If our acts of compassion are a sign pointing to God’s abounding compassion, how can we not strive to do more so that the world might see more of God’s love? A meal today is good. A job tomorrow is great.
I am not going to pretend that I know how to create jobs. I am a pastor, not a business leader or a social entrepreneur. I will say that members of the book study group at Manhattan First UMC have been quick to point out that well-paying jobs alone are not sufficient to move a person or a community out of poverty. Individuals in poverty today will need support in the transition from emergency to emergency to greater stability. Men and women will need the necessary skills to maintain steady employment. Bridges of training and support will have to be built between where we are now to where we want to go.
Lupton dreams of a church that will redefine itself and move into the business of building just and fruitful economies. We may not know how exactly how to go about doing this, but I sure cannot see any reason why we wouldn’t try.