CORE STRATEGIES: Ministry With The Poor

A critical central core strategy of the Central Texas Conference comes straight from the Four Focus Areas of the United Methodist Church – ministry with the poor.  Two quotes come to mind.  The first grows from the soil of Methodism in its original form:

1.  “It is to these Samaritans, those who live outside the palladium of property and privilege, that the Methodist mission is directed. Life is already in the condition of the “spiritual.” Life is the arena of the Spirit. To go deeper into life is to go deeper into the life of the Spirit. Miss J.C. March wrote to John Wesley and asked how best to mature her faith. John answered with an elaboration of prevenient grace: ‘Go see the poor and sick in their own poor little hovels. Take up your cross, woman!.… Jesus went before you, and will go with you. Put off the gentlewoman; you bear a higher character. You are an heir of God!’ When Jesus is Lord, our lords become the poor, the sick, the hungry, the hurting” (The Greatest Story Never Told by Leonard Sweet, pg. 86).

Reflect deeply on the truth that Wesley teaches.  To go deeper into a mature faith involves us going to and being with the poor.  Wesley harkens back to the great teaching of Christ in Matthew 25 (“to the least of these my brothers and sisters”) in his phrase, “Jesus went before you.”

The second quote comes from a young millennial Christian leader named Shane Claiborne passed on to me by Dr. Elaine Heath (Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology):

 2.  “The problem with most American middle class Christians, according to Claiborne, is not ignorance of poverty, but absence of relationships with the poor. ‘I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor’”  (From Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community, by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker, pg. 74).

Ponder fully the phrase “the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.”  Claiborne’s insight fits nicely with the profound and profoundly disturbing work of a secular sociologist Charles Murray (see his book Coming Apart).  Murray notes that often those making policy for the poor really have very little contact with those they seek to help.  This is the flaw in well intended ministry for the poor.  The transforming element of relationship is missing.

The operative word for this strategy both for the Central Texas Conference and the larger United Methodist Church is “with” as in ministry with the poor.  Part of what makes mission trips (whether they are across the street or across the world) so powerfully life changing for the missioner (the one missionally offering) is the personal hands on engagement.  The work of mission teams and local service ministry is literally life transforming for all involved.  This was a cardinal insight of Wesley and the early Methodist.  Today, our mission trips are re-appropriating this great insight.  Thus we together in ministry with the poor live out our core value of being missional – that is, engaged in ministries of love, justice and mercy.

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