Worship and Poverty Alliviation part 3: Not All Poverty Is Alike

Please read part 1 and part 2 first.

In part 2, I shared a biblical perspective on poverty, specifically that poverty is a result of the brokenness of God’s good creation that was cause by the fall. Now I want to be clear about what I am not saying. I am not saying that people become poor as a result of their personal sins. Personal sin can perpetuate poverty, but the root causes of poverty are the presence of sin within communities and social institutions as a whole.  As the title of this post suggests, not all poverty is alike. Some poverty is the result of emergency situations that require relief. Some poverty is the result of more systemic problems which require “development”.

Sin within a social institution can best be exemplified by the historical legacy of slavery in the United States. Slavery created a system where one ethnic group grew prosperous through the direct oppression of another ethnic group. The brokenness that slavery created within the social structures of both whites and blacks can only be redeemed through the work of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. This kind of brokenness is also not fixed by a short term mission trip or a soup kitchen. It’s not fixed with the typical poverty ministries come to mind. In fact, these kinds of ministries that are designed to alleviate poverty can sometimes perpetuate the sinful systems that create poverty. Middle class folks can often come from the suburbs with what Corbit and Fikkert describe as a “god-complex”, identifying themselves as the divinely ordained rescuers of the lower class.  As these folks enter into the problems of poverty in the city, it can perpetuate the paternalistic worldview that created the problems in the first place. So, my point is that sinful institutions and brokenness in communities require a different solution than emergency relief.

Emergencies are a different kind of poverty. When an earthquake happens or a hurricane, we don’t need to talk about the broken social structures because people need help now. When people need immediate help with food, water, shelter, etc. it’s best to “put down the guitar” and get involved with meeting people’s basic needs for life. This kind of poverty alleviation is referred to by Corbit and Fikkert as “relief”.

Relief is different than “development”. Development is the process of addressing those broken social structures over the long haul. This means addressing both the sin within poor communities and the sin within the more “stable” communities. In other words, we have address the “god-complex” in the middle class as well as the sin patterns that afflict the poor. Development is a long slow process that takes decades to see much result. It’s about redeeming the image bearing nature of the humans who are trapped in poverty. It’s about reaping the good, fruitful resources that already exist with poor communities for the purposes of God’s kingdom. It’s about reconciling broken relationships between ethnic groups, social classes, or economic divisions.  Not all poverty is alike and so there is not one set poverty solution that will address every situation. Development also has to be custom designed for each circumstance.

The restoration process that comes from development is exactly where worship ministries step into the poverty alleviation  battle and leads into part 4: Worship as Development.

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  1. #1 by Heidi on March 27, 2010 - 1:34 pm

    Pretty excited to here about worship as development. For those who read your blog that don’t know what worship means it may be good to define it. I know I had a pretty narrow view of worship until we began talking about it at New City (especially with the worship team).

    P.S. Jake and I are crazy busy, but before we never see you guys again we should set up a game night. Blessings to you, Sarah, and the kiddos!
    P.S.S. I never spell check when I comment on your blog, because you did a post forever ago on being a poor speller, so that’s pretty freeing.

  1. Worship and Poverty Alleviation – part 4: Worship as Development « Worship In The City

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