“Can we really move the poverty needle? More fundamentally, do we really want to see the poor of our world thrive? Some folks are not too sure.” Robert Lupton in the Conclusion to Charity Detox
Bringing It Home
Robert Lupton’s book Charity Detox has been a fruitful read for our passionate crew gathered at Manhattan First UMC. It has been, as I had hoped, a provocative prompt for honest conversation on the mission and ministry of the church, a useful tool for self-reflection, and a spark for our collective imagination.
As we wrap up our book study, here is what I am left with.
Not all mercy ministry (not all charity) is created equal. This is not personal. It is not a judgment on any one person, project, or program. It is, however, a call to assess the relationships and attitudes that are fostered through our current ways of doing things. How are our programs building relationships of mutuality? meeting human need? enhancing dignity? growing human capacity? strengthening community? What would need to shift in order to move in these directions?
We must ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. There are multiple, often unspoken, reasons that churches do the things they do. Can we identify the primary drivers for each of our ministries? Are the underlying purposes of our ministries well-balanced between our church’s institutional needs and the needs of our neighbors? Do we understand the difference between ministries whose primary purpose is to help the church grow disciples and ministries whose primary purpose is to provide opportunities for our neighbors in poverty?
Results matter. Transformation matters. Robert Lupton holds out a vision of a world (according to economist Jeffrey Sachs) that has cut extreme poverty by more than half in the last decade. This is shockingly hopeful. At the same time, if we want to see results as dramatic as the reduction of poverty, we won’t arrive there without aiming there. We must keep our eyes relentlessly focused on results if we are committed to working for real and positive impacts in our communities, regions, and beyond. Anything less is simply keeping ourselves busy.
Taking It From Here
So what’s next on the horizon? I suppose the answer comes as we consider Lupton’s final challenge. Do we really want to see the poor of our world thrive? If we do, are we ready to listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives and and in our churches? God can lead us from here, if we care enough to be led.