“…The church can all too easily become a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. No radical new community is being formed. Jesus did not come to set up a program but was creating a new society in which rich and poor come together in relationship. And this new sense of community, kingdom living, spreads like disease does—through touch and through breath, through life. It is spread by people infected with the love of Christ.” (Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne)
When I first read these words, they pierced my soul like a knife. I was forced to admit that I, like so many others, had deceived myself into thinking that once I had given my money, participated in a coat drive, and brought my cans of soup to church that my duty to care for the poor was completed. Sadly, I had bought into the same insidious lie as my culture, that somehow lives were changed by “stuff.” But my stuff and your stuff will never change the world. Jesus taught that love, and only love, has the power to change a life.
Let’s face it. What Jesus taught is radically different from what many of us practice. For Jesus, charity was never divorced from relationship because once that separation occurs its transformative power has been stripped away. As ministry leaders, Christ’s example has radical ramifications for how we do ministry, especially among the poor and most vulnerable elements of society.
As a church we have decided that everything we do among the needy must be first and foremost relational. We never want to do the kind of charity that robs people of dignity and thereby only adds to their poverty by making them feel impoverished in their minds or in their spirit. Charity in the church happens best in the context of sharing our lives and sharing our hearts.
In January of this year our church spent a month talking about how we see the poor, what Jesus really said about how we are to relate to the poor, and why it was important that we find ways, even across the ocean, to do everything in the context of relationship. As a result, individuals within the family of Springcreek Community Church sponsored nearly five hundred children from a region of southern Kenya, called Katito. We emphasized that sponsorship goes way beyond a monthly check for $35. What is truly transformative is connecting with that child through regular cards and letters. Whatever else we may do, let it first be radically relational.
Keith Stewart (attended 1989–1991) is senior pastor of Springcreek Community Church in Garland, Texas.