I’ve always found it significant that Jesus mentions the poor in his very first sermon: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor” (Luke 4:18 NLT).
We must care about the poor because Jesus did. We don’t have a choice. So how can we help the people in our churches minister to the poor? Here are a few ideas I have; perhaps you have more:
1. Treat the poor with dignity.
We’re not smarter, we’re not more talented, and we’re not more valuable than people who are poor. The Bible says, “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2 NIV). I like to say that our self-worth isn’t based on our net worth.
2. Offer the poor opportunities.
The Bible says, “When we have the opportunity to help anyone, we should do it” (Galatians 6:10 NCV). As I’ve talked to people in various ministries, they all say that the best way to help the poor isn’t to give them a bunch of money. It’s to give them opportunities.
Maybe people need training. Maybe they need help finding a job. Maybe they need a network of folks who can connect them with mentors and resources. We can teach our members to watch for ways they can give opportunities to the poor.
3. Defend the poor.
The Bible says it’s our responsibility to care about injustice. We’re called to speak up when we see the poor (or anyone else) mistreated. The poor are vulnerable to abuse. They’re often the ones who get taken advantage of by unfair practices of businesses and landlords. And it’s the poor around the world who are most likely to get sold into slavery.
We can look for opportunities to defend them. In fact, at Saddleback, we’re mobilizing members with legal backgrounds to help us do this.
4. Share what we have.
This is how we can be the church. The Bible says, “Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives” (Isaiah 58:7 CEV). We want people to start meeting needs when they find them, not just expect someone at the church to handle them.
A church dispersed can serve many more people than a church gathered. If your church has 100 members for every staff member, your church dispersed has 100 times as many opportunities to help people who are poor than if it’s just left to the staff.
And as we teach people to help the poor, we’re helping them to worship God: “If you oppress poor people, you insult the God who made them; but kindness shown to the poor is an act of worship” (Proverbs 14:31 GNT).