Posts Tagged When Helping Hurts

Worship and Poverty Alleviation – part 4: Worship as Development

Finally, I’m going to wrap up this series of posts that I started a few months ago. Feel free to go back and read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

To summarize the string of ideas at this point:

  • Worship musicians need to be given a vision for their role in poverty alleviation
  • Poverty is a bi-product of the corrosive effects of sin on creation and cultures
  • Most poverty, especially that which is caused by systemic problems,  is in need of  “development” and not “relief”   forms of poverty alleviation

I’m just about to finish John Perkin’s book, Beyond Charity. Perkins is the founder of the Christian Community Development Association. Beyond Charity is a kind of manifesto for community development. The process of development involves relocating into an materially poor community, building long term relationships, encouraging indigenous leadership, providing access to resources, and basically reversing the destruction caused by the fall. Perkins affirms that community development is not something that is fulfilled with government programs alone or even by para-church organizations. He says that community development has to be lead by the local church. Where the church is, there is liturgy, worship.

Worship is the greatest power to heal a community from the effects of sin because worship is the very process that re-aligns the human heart with the Lordship of Jesus and their familial relationship with the Creator and the creation. When we meet together in worship, we bring our hearts back under the instruction of the Word to expose our sin and to magnify the glory of the Redeemer. In worship, we get our feet back onto the Rock; all other ground is sinking sand.

Poverty is created when our worldview is corrupted and we no longer reflect the amazing image of the Father. Sin causes us to fail to love our neighbor and fail to love the Lord God. The power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ defeated death and sin and now we have the freedom to become the salt and light of the world to bring restoration. In worship we have our hearts restored to the right harmony that we aught to have with the Truth. This is the greatest resource for “development” that there is.

Let’s take the practical example of an unemployed, alcoholic man who has been born-again is now in the worship service. There’s not an instant overnight change that comes from looking at a painting of Jesus and hearing “Amazing Grace” like you see in movies. However, sitting in worship every week, he starts to hear about how he’s loved by the universe Creator. He learns that he’s been made into a new creation. He learns that God is a good God who can do anything but fail. Soon, he sees that his freedom to pursue drunkenness is actually a trap that deprives him of the good promises of God. Emboldened by these promises he gets the help that he needs to overcome the addiction. His new identity in Christ also emboldens him to pursue employment because he is no longer defined by his poverty or his lack of education. Instead, he’s a child of God who can trust in the Father to be Jehovah Jirah. He’s no longer defining himself by his lack of power in the cultures eyes, but by the immeasurable power of the resurrection of Jesus.

At the same time, worship is changing the hearts of people in positions of power in the community. These other redeemed sinners  start to affect change in the systems that contribute to his unemployment. Power shifts, resources become available, jobs start to materialize as the people of God in this man’s community draw near to the God of Justice. When the wealthy, powerful people experience the love of Jesus they begin to repent of their materialism and idolatry to capitalism, mobilizing their resources into service to the kingdom.

Worship brings us near the heart of the Reconciling God. Jesus prayer that we will be unified begins to spring into life as we proclaim that he reigns. Soon the recovering alcoholic and the recovering capitalist begin to worship together and become bound together in the brotherhood of the kingdom. Singing and praying together, these men bring a kind of alleviation of poverty that goes much deeper than the band-aid solutions that only perpetuate the relationship between the materially poor and the materially wealthy.

What’ s the church musician’s role in poverty alleviation? We lead people in songs of praise to the Sovereign Lord who proclaims freedom for the captive, who binds up the brokenhearted, opens the eyes of the blind. Coming together on the first day of the week to worship Jesus and to remember his death and resurrection  is the means by which our hearts and minds are tuned to resonated with the anthem of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. The new songs of the kingdom are more than fight-songs or cheers from the sidelines – we are in the very thick of the battle for hearts and minds to invite sinners into the banquet of grace into order to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.

Sing! Sing for the Lamb who was slain sits on the throne. He is making all things new and He brings captives in His train. Sing!

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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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Worship and Poverty Alleviation – Part 2: What is Poverty?

Please read Part 1 – Worship and Poverty Alleviation.

Richard Sterns book, “The Hole In Our Gospel” paints a vivid picture of what poverty is in today’s world: imagine 100 jetliners full of children crashing everyday and you get an idea of the number of children who die every day from poverty related problems.  Lack of access to food and water, disease, famine and armed conflict are what Sterns describes as “the horsemen of the apocalypse”. Sterns’ book is an appeal to the disciples of Jesus (especially in the “developed world”) to stop being so focused on our own comfort and safety and to actually follow Jesus’ summons to join in the vision of the kingdom of God as described in Isaiah 58 and 61.

As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, when I look at the “horsemen”, I think to myself, “put down the guitar, and get your hands dirty feeding the hungry and healing the sick.” How can I reconciled my job as a full-time salaried church musician to the call of Jesus Christ to be like the “Good Samaritan” and not walk past my neighbor in need, proceeding on to my rehearsal or worship set? Is it an offense to the values of the kingdom of God to  spend resources that could be used to provide the basic living necessities to the poor? How many children from those jetliners could I save by resigning my job and letting my salary go to the rescue efforts? Thankfully, I don’t have to resign from my job (which I love!). In fact, my job is an important piece of God’s plan for the rescue and restoration of His good creation but it starts with a good biblical view of poverty.

A biblical view of poverty starts at the beginning. According to God’s word, this universe was created good. Humans were created as image bearers, who were also good. We still possess this distinction as the apex of God’s creativity and an expression of his sovereign love and wisdom. Humans are wonderfully made to be in harmonious relationship with God, with each other, with creation and with ourselves. The bible also teaches that the inherent goodness and glory of humans  has been corrupted by our separation from God through sin. Sin has broken humanity to the degree that those harmonious relationships have been lost. This loss of harmony has created a true poverty that is the root cause of the hunger, disease, conflict, imbalance of resources, etc. that are the characteristics of material poverty.

“When Helping Hurts” presents a definition of the fundamental nature of poverty from Bryan L. Myers

Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.

Poverty is caused by a web of circumstances that are all rooted in the fallen, broken nature of all humanity. In a sinless world, poverty would not exist. I know that this doesn’t let me off the hook yet from resigning, but I think that it gets us closer to the real problem. At the root of poverty is sin. We will not succeed in any effort to eradicate poverty without addressing the problem of sin.

Coming up next…Part 3 – Not all poverty is alike

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Worship and Poverty Alleviation – part 1

What sort of things does the word “worship” make you think of? Singing, preaching, prayer, sacraments, offerings, and confessions might come to mind. What things come to mind when we talk about “poverty”? Unemployment, homelessness, hunger, lack of access to resources, lack of education, lack of opportunity, lack of power are a few things that I think of. When I think about “poverty alleviation”, by which I mean the work we do as disciples of Jesus to pursue doing justice and mercy for the oppressed, how does that connect with my job as a worship leader?

This question has bothered me for a few years. When I think about my fellow staff members who are working in job training, acts of service, tutoring, education, health, or sex trafficking  ministries, it’s easy to see the connection with what they are doing and poverty alleviation. But what about me and my guitar? If I want to make a difference in the fight against poverty, shouldn’t I put down the guitar and do something that actually meets physical needs? In response to this question, people usually give me the “cheerleader” illustration which is something like this, “Kirk, we need you to give us the encouragement and motivation to go out there and do what needs to get done.” Honestly, that response is not good enough. Who would want to do that? I don’t want to be a cheerleader; I want to be on the field in the game.

This past year, I read a book called “When Helping Hurts”. That book has completely changed my mind about what my job is and how necessary worship is in the process of poverty alleviation. My whole understanding of poverty has been clarified so that I can see  a direct connection between the problem of poverty and how worship is a major part of the solution. Instead of being a cheerleader on the sideline, I can see that worship is a necessary part of the process of community development and the restoration of humanity to the glory that God originally created us to possess. So, I want to take my time to flesh this out by writing a series of posts about this subject.

Part 2 – What is poverty?

Part 3 – Not all poverty is alike

Part 4 – Worship as development

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