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2003 Our Relationship with the Poor

Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 118th Covenant Annual Meeting.

Biblical Basis

Scripture teaches that God is concerned about justice for the poor. Scripture also affirms that all we possess belongs to God and we are to be God’s stewards. Old Testament law presents examples of divine legislation that provide for redistributive justice for the poor. This is especially evident in the Jubilee laws (Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15:7-11). God’s people are to make sure that cycles of poverty are broken. Through Jubilee laws this was done through the returning of the means of production (land holdings) to all people. This kept poverty from becoming a permanent condition. (See the appendix for further discussion on these points.)

Building on this foundation of justice, the Scriptures also call for compassion (Proverbs 19:17). In both the Old and New Testaments, God’s people are instructed to become personally involved in extending compassion. Compassion goes beyond the creation of just laws, or feelings of concern. We are to demonstrate God’s heart and action by becoming personally involved (1 John 3:17-18; Luke 18:22).

Furthermore, we must not overlook the rewards we gain and the promises God makes to us when we reach out as equals to those in need. We are to approach the poor not from a position of superiority, but to extend friendship in Christ-like manner (2 Corinthians 8:9). When we partner with God in carrying out his will for us and for our hurting neighbors and communities, we find that not only are we a blessing to others; we ourselves are blessed (Proverbs 22:9, Psalms 37:26; 41:1-3; 106:1-5). Fulfilling God’s instruction to be with the poor is a key path to revitalization of our own spiritual lives, as individuals and as churches. Many references throughout the Bible support this premise (2 Chronicles 15:7; Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 11:18; 13:21; 19:17; Jeremiah 17:10 and 32:19; 1 Corinthians 3:9-14; Matthew 6:1-4 and 16:27; Ephesians 6:7-8; Colossians 3:23-24; Hebrews 10:36; and 1 Timothy 6:18-19 all reflect such a message).

God’s intentions have never been for some of God’s people to accumulate wealth while others are in abject poverty. Sufficient food, safe neighborhoods and schools, reasonable housing, health care, decent clothes: these are God’s intentions for all his people. When we pursue God’s mission of working with the poor, we are accomplishing God’s will for others and tending to our own spiritual health (Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 32:18 and 58:12).

The Call

Christians are called to address both the effects and sources of poverty.

We are to get involved, first, through personal interaction with the poor. Jesus teaches that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner, we are both touching him and becoming like him.

We are to get involved, second, by expanding our vision and efforts through supporting and encouraging various community- and economic-development projects. The Scriptures declare that God is a lover of justice who seeks to establish equity (Psalm 99:4); that God wants us to establish justice (Amos 5:15); and that God desires justice and righteousness to flow from our hearts and hands (Amos 5:24).

We are to get involved as churches, thirdly, to provide opportunities to become involved in ministries to alleviate poverty (compassion ministry) and effect systemic change (justice ministry). When we do this we are to look for partnering opportunities with other Christians who are so concerned.

We have a relationship with the poor whether we know it or not: either we are directly involved with them or through our neglect we support the current systems that are in place.

Proposed Action

The 118th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church proposes that all local Covenant churches determine how they might do ministry with the poor in their neighborhood or a nearby neighborhood.

We ask that all Covenant members pray about and practice ministry with the poor. We can do this within our families, communities, and workplaces.

We furthermore ask that each regional conference consider putting ministry with the poor into their core mission statement or list of strategic goals for work with their member churches. We recognize the many Covenant congregations that already model ministry with the poor, and we encourage them to be a resource for other congregations.

The 118th Annual Meeting also asks the administration of the Evangelical Covenant Church to consider economic diversity in its efforts to become a fuller expression of the body of Christ.

Some Suggestions for Ministry with the Poor

Prayerfully consider the needs of those struggling with poverty. Listen, learn, and pray before deciding what is needed.

Ask help from your regional conference. Consider the work of other congregations in the fields of food, clothing, youth, education, job assistance, children, and domestic violence.

Find ways to involve people in ministry. The first need is always people, not programs. People-to-people ministries lead to transformation of both the poor and those who are middle-class.

Establish youth-volunteer programs that encourage our own Covenant youth to donate several months of service to a partner congregation or a domestic outreach effort sponsored by their congregation.

Develop a Domestic Exchange Program similar to the International Exchange Program. Youth, through spring or summer vacations or at other times, would stay with families in Covenant churches representing various cultures.

As God calls all of us, we are calling Covenanters to give not only a “handout” but a “hand-up”—to help people help themselves by

  • mentorship and counseling opportunities
  • establishing small businesses,
  • skill-training and job-placement programs,
  • building strong, stable families
  • various community, economic, and housing-development projects
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