Vibrant Ministries with the Poor
A woman battling alcohol and drug addictions, who hasn’t been able to make recovery programs work for her, finally beats her addictions in a program rooted in the neighborhood—a program that treats addiction in the context of the community’s struggles. She becomes a Sunday school teacher and receptionist.
A man living on the streets wanders into the weekly meal at a church that practices radical hospitality. Over time he emerges as the head chef, and as one of the leaders of the church community that helped him to embrace his talents and dreams.
A day-laborer who lost his home is alone in a new city when he is hospitalized for cancer. When he is discharged, he is welcomed into a respite program at a local church, and in this small intentional community he discovers that the church is his new home.
These are just some of the many examples of Ministry with the Poor that we will highlight in this new blog series, Transformational Ministries. We hope these stories inspire creative new ministries with, rather than to or for, those struggling with poverty.
Ministry with the Poor, one of four priority areas of focus of the United Methodist Church, goes far beyond food pantries and other anti-poverty relief programs. Ministry With* is a transformational approach to working with, instead of just giving to or doing for, people and communities living in conditions of poverty.
Ministry With* aspires to impact root causes of poverty, spearheaded by the very people and communities burdened with the struggle, in partnership with people of faith who, like Jesus, are called to walk with and alongside the poor and marginalized.
Ministry With* is an aspect of discipleship, a form of conversion experience. According to the Ministry with the Poor Guiding Principles and Foundations, Ministry With* is about “Answering Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in God’s Mission of Love and Justice” in response to a biblical imperative that applies to us as much as it did to Jesus:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)
How Do We Engage in Authentic Ministry With?*
But what does transformational Ministry With* look like? Are there any “best practices,” models, or living examples that can be replicated or adapted to different contexts?
The answer is yes, some of which can be found in stories, blogs and other resources we have shared on the Ministry with the Poor website, our Facebook page and Twitter. Yet, hearing continued requests for “best practices,” we recognize the need to try a different approach to sharing ideas and stories that will inform, inspire, and resonate with people who yearn to respond to God’s call to be in Ministry With*. It is for that reason we now launch this Transformational Ministries blog.
Some Distinguishing Features of Ministry With*
In contrast to merely giving to or doing for people in poverty (as if they have no gifts, talents, or voices of their own to contribute), engaging in ministry with, alongside, and in concert with leadership from the margins (instead of from the center) includes a number of distinguishing features, such as:
- Mutual, Transformational Relationships
The foundational principle of Ministry With* is the practice of building authentic, mutual, open, caring, sustained and transformational relationships among people of different economic, cultural, and class situations. In contrast to purely donor-recipient transactions, authentic Ministry With* involves becoming conscious of and setting aside one’s own social location, attitudes and cultural assumptions, and—like Jesus—being humble, vulnerable, open, courageous, and willing to listen, learn, and build trust and deeper relationships.
- Crossing Boundaries as a Spiritual Discipline
Multi-class, multi-cultural worship, prayer, bible reading, breaking bread, open-mic nights, poetry slams, singing and dancing, and other inclusive spiritual and social encounters that embrace and celebrate diversity and create safe and welcoming space to cross boundaries, transcend the literal and figurative walls that separate us, and build mutually transformational relationships.
Short-hand expression for being with, being present with (rather than doing for), being in solidarity with, walking with and alongside people struggling with conditions of and systems that perpetuate poverty. Assumes humility, openness and courage; a willingness to listen, learn, and build trust and deeper relationships.
- Asset-Based Leadership From the Margins, Not the Center
Respects and values the skills, knowledge and leadership potential of those living on the margins, rather than imposing leadership from the center to the margins and imposing donor/developer/lender-driven solutions. Begins with seeking out and embracing the assets, gifts, talents, graces, and hopes of communities and people impacted by poverty, rather than with a “needs assessment” by people (volunteers, donors, developers, government agencies, etc.) from outside the community.
- Long-Term Sustainable Impact
To build and maintain relationships that nurture and respect local leadership and avoid creating dependencies requires more than short term interventions and relief; long-term commitment of partners in relationship with leaders of local communities is needed to bring about sustainable changes in systems and structures.
In many “new places for new people”—out in the streets, in “churches without walls,” in prisons, community centers, drug treatment facilities, re-claimed and repurposed buildings, transitional housing, cafés—as well as in some traditional church structures, we find disciples of Jesus, partnering in a special way with God and neighbor to transform this world into God’s kingdom.
We have found that these people and places typically embody some or all of the Distinguishing Features of Ministry With*, with a particular emphasis on intentionally bridging social barriers to develop authentic, life-giving relationships among people of different economic, cultural, and class situations. Transformational Ministries are what we are calling these living examples of Ministry With*, a/k/a “best practices.”
This series lifts up specific practices that can be applied or adapted to diverse contexts. These stories of Transformational Ministries and the ways in which they embody the Features of Ministry With* illustrate the difference between a donor-recipient model and a model of transformational ministry with and alongside the poor.
Stay tuned. The next blog post of Transformational Ministries should be coming within two weeks.
Be With* Us!
Which of the Features of Ministry With* are embodied in your ministries?
Which of the Features of Ministry With* would you like to see your church or group focus on developing?
If you know of examples of Transformational Ministries, would you please bring them to our attention so that we may lift them up to others?