Believing in the Urban Poor
Last week I was watching a story about terrorist groups on cable news. The largest target group for recruitment in many cases are unemployed young men from under-resourced communities. There seems to be a number of young men from the United States that fit this description being lured into these terrorist cell armies. What does this tell us? Is it just that terrorist groups are so desperate that they will take anyone, including the Poor? Or does it tell us that they see something in the Poor that we don’t see?
I actually began wrestling with this years ago, when I was an urban youth pastor and later church planter. It seemed to me that gang leaders, pimps, and drug dealers saw more potential in urban poor youth than the church did. I even had to confess that as one who had to raise financial support as an urban youth worker and initially as a church planter, I had developed a heart for the Poor, but I was more focused and dependent than I wanted to admit on the Privileged. I had high hopes for the Privileged. I needed them to believe in me, fund me, and continue to fund my ministry. Some of the Privileged had strings with their money. They also wanted to speak into the strategies and theology of the urban ministry I was involved in even though they had no urban background, urban ministry experience, and lacked cross-cultural competencies. But even with all that, I was depended on believing in the Privileged for my survival. I won’t take the time now to add that one of the reasons I was so dependent on the Suburban Privileged is because many Urban Churches either didn’t have the resources to or didn’t believe in hiring full time Youth Pastors. So that raises the question of if the urban church in some cases even believes in college educated young adults who come from urban environments with a call on their lives for ministry. But again, I won’t go into that now.
All this energy on the Suburban Privileged can take energy away from believing the Poor. Believing in the Poor is much more than having compassion for the Poor. Within Evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism there is much compassion and advocacy for the Poor in the US, but I question is we are fully committed to the empowerment of the Poor. Empowerment of the Poor means you believe in their potential to lead, develop, create, innovate, and become a part of your succession plan if you are an older leader. This is what’s missing in far too many of our models of evangelism, discipleship, and witness within the body of Christ in the US.
Why must we radically believe in the Urban Poor? Because this was the ministry of Christ. Not only was it His ministry, it was the human package in which Christ lived as He walked the earth. Christ did not come to earth as a Privileged Suburbanite. He came as a Jewish, ethnic minority, oppressed, and marginalized human being. The Poor, marginalized, outcast, and diseased were at the center of His declarations and demonstrations of the Kingdom of God. He showed us Who He was thru His interactions with women, children, the blind, the paralyzed, and those facing the death sentence. He then empowered them to go out as evangelists and missionaries, advancing the Kingdom of God themselves.
The first churches as we know them in the New Testament, in many cases, were led by the persecuted, the marginalized, the oppressed, and the non-Privileged. God has high standards and great expectations of the Poor. The question is not what God thinks about the Poor, but what does the Privileged Church of the US think about the Poor. We must believe in the Poor, especially the Urban Poor in our nation. We must see their potential. If you can’t see the potential of a Poor Person becoming a leader and/or Pastor in your church then you are not seeing the Poor thru the eyes of Christ. If you can’t see the Poor planting churches and shepherding their own people in their own communities then you aren’t seeing them thru the eyes of Christ.
We must move beyond simply compassion for the Poor to the empowerment of the Poor.