We can end poverty in our lifetimes, if we only believe and take action. As Christians, we should be at the center of this movement. Jesus passionately spoke about the problems of poverty—boldly showing how the impoverished are close to the heart of God. Here are five ways Jesus would approach the problem of poverty.
1. Envision what can be with the hurting.
Listening is the first step to effective change. Often an impoverished group of people knows exactly what must be done for things to change. This principle of community development is directly applicable to the work of the gospel in the world. While Jesus could have just healed people instantly and moved on, he would regularly stop to have a conversation—to engage in relationship (e.g., >Luke 18:35–43; >John 4:1–26).
I believe this framework is directly applicable to the work of alleviating poverty. We have to develop efforts with the impoverished—not just for them. (To make this tangible: Jesus’ Economy, the organization I lead, has a model for holistically transforming communities, but we discern the components of the model with regional leaders who represent the impoverished—here’s an example of a project in action.)
2. Meet the basic needs of the impoverished.
When Jesus spoke about giving to the person who asks, he meant it (Matthew 5:42). Now, while I think there are some caveats here—such as not giving to the person who will obviously spend the money on alcohol—giving is clearly central to the gospel message. There are many problems in our world that simply shouldn’t be: such as people drinking dirty water. We with money need to take care of these problems—outright, without a hitch.
While I am completely in favor of sustainable community development, I also believe that there is a time and place to just meet a person’s needs—right where they are at. (This is why meeting basic needs is a core tenant of the model of Jesus’ Economy—sometimes people just need clean water.)
3. Believe in the miracle-working power of God to heal and reconcile.
Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus. While he often had tough conversations about a person’s circumstances (e.g., Matt 8:5–13; 15:21–28), he also directly addressed the pain a person was experiencing. In Jesus, we see conversation and action, but also outright and bold belief. Jesus doesn’t see what is only; he sees what can be.
I believe in the miracle working power of God. I have seen with my own eyes what happens when Jesus comes to town—people get healed. A Christian faith focused on just natural healing—through medicine and meeting needs—is not a Christian faith at all. We need these things since they do solve many problems; God has given us these tools. But we also have to believe in a miracle-working savior and we must pray as such.
4. Speak words of truth about our world’s problems.
Jesus was anything but timid—he regularly spoke the truth that others did not want to hear (e.g., Matthew 23). Jesus cried out against the injustices he witnessed, suggesting that radical change needed to take place.
Today, we need to do the same thing. We must be advocates for what can be—we must call out injustice when we see it. (Once again, to use a tangible example, this is why we at Jesus’ Economy developed an advocate program. We know that rallying around a cause is just as important as the cause itself.) The work of God is not just meant to transform other people’s lives but also our own. If we as Christians follow our advocacy with our actions, those around us will want to take action too. We will actually have a shot at changing the world.
We have an opportunity to end poverty in our lifetimes, and we can do so the biblical way. It is up to you, it is up to me—it is up to all of us—to take action.
John D. Barry is the CEO and Founder of Jesus’ Economy, dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. Because of John’s belief that business can also transform lives, Jesus’ Economy also provides an online fair trade shop. He is currently leading Jesus’ Economy efforts to Renew Bihar, India—one of the most impoverished places in the world where few have heard the name of Jesus.