Imagine a community where it is said, “there are no needy among us.”
Imagine a community that addresses the injustice of poverty so strategically that “there are no needy among us.”
Imagine the Body of Christ in a community so one in heart and mind that “no needy among us” is the reality.
Acts 4:32-35 records this phenomenon: there were no needy in Jerusalem among the believers in Jesus. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?! What if it was said of YOUR community? Imagine that happening because of you.
I am passionate about the Body of Christ taking a philanthropic approach to eliminating need. The word philanthropy (phileo + anthropos) literally means “love people.” A traditional approach to benevolence is transactional. It relieves pain; it gives a fish. A philanthropic approach is relational. It addresses root issues; it teaches fishing and what to do with those fish.
Since 1964, the U.S. government has spent over $20 trillion on programs in a “War on Poverty.” 53 years later, we’re conditioned to think of poverty as an economic level one lies above or below. But poverty is complex. Multifaceted. Educator Ruby Payne defines poverty as “the extent to which a person does without resources.” By that definition, we’re all poor in some way – whether that be relational, educational, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, material, or financial poverty.
On the flip side, we’re all rich in some way. Everyone has something to offer. Vast resources exist to prevent and alleviate poverty. Optimal stewardship of those resources occurs when multi-sector collaborations focus upon solutions to, rather than the problems of, poverty.
In 2008, a group of praying pastors in Stillwater, Oklahoma convened a special meeting. They discussed the dilemma of those who moved among local churches and agencies receiving aid, yet not being elevated above and beyond their circumstance of poverty – whatever that might be. They admitted churches perpetuated this broken cycle. Something had to change!
The pastors concluded that to do benevolence differently, it had to be done:
- Relationally, as messy as that can be.
- Responsibly, as communities have limited resources.
- Respectfully, toward all in need.
- Redemptively, both spiritually and culturally.
The pastors sought strategic ways to address poverty philanthropically, in the truest sense of the word. Simply put, “How do we love people as Jesus would?” Taking a Christ-centric, people-loving approach meant:
- developing authentic relationships with those in need.
- managing available resources in a coordinated way.
- respectfully leading with grace while loving with truth.
- redeeming people from their circumstance into a positive and hopeful future story.
The community took notice when churches unified to address the dilemma of poverty. Others began to express interest in participating with them. Five factors shaped the direction of this Church-led movement:
- The common habit of prayer – all churches pray; churches could pray together.
- The common practice of alleviating poverty – all churches practice benevolence; churches could do this together, too.
- Common language (terms, phrases, slogans, etc.) to facilitate like-minded communication.
- A common commitment to a Memorandum of Understanding to form a multi-sector association.
- A common data system, CharityTracker, to manage benevolence.
Those praying pastors put feet to their prayers. Today, Stillwater CARES leads a multi-sector collaboration of over 65 organizations – half of them churches. I do not believe this would have transpired apart from pastors first praying and seeking God. Together. This led to trusting one another enough to dare ask hard questions, cooperate to make a difference, and include others on the journey. Today’s Church has the same potential to stimulate sustainable transformation as did the first Church in Jerusalem. No needy among us. Aspire to that ideal!
Quinn is an ordained minister of 33 years with experience both overseas and in America in cross-denominational networking and multi-sector collaborations. He is the founder and president of OIKOS Network, a ministry to unite the Body of Christ. Since 2008, OIKOS has been instrumental in leading a multi-sector initiative in Stillwater, Oklahoma called Stillwater CARES. This resulted in a collaborative of 30 churches and 28 organizations cooperating to find community-based solutions to break cycles of poverty. He is a featured speaker at SATtalks 2017