How can local churches that serve in the context of poverty be empowered to realize their mission? This is a question that arose while working with local churches to reach out to children in poverty. Do local churches in poor communities see themselves as Christ sees them? Do they see themselves as being part of the Church triumphant? It seems to me that most of these churches have let the circumstances in which they minister determine the way they perceive themselves, and that, to some extent, has limited their efforts towards their God given mandate.
When local churches allow the hardships and difficult circumstances to define who they are, they fail to see themselves as Christ sees them. Their ability to bring about the Kingdom of God in the communities where he has placed them becomes limited. Ministries and organizations that partner with these churches have a task of ensuring that they do not promote the negative self perceptions that the churches have while they serve alongside them. They should strive to enable the churches to see themselves as Christ sees them – the Church triumphant and the vehicle for bringing about the kingdom of God in the world. I believe Jesus’ words to the Church in Smyrna “I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich” (Rev. 2:9), ring truer and should be an encouragement to such local churches serving in poor communities. Christ has not lost confidence in his Church regardless of the circumstances in its local expressions and neither should anyone or any organization that works with it.
Ministry partners with local churches should encourage their efforts however small. Most local churches, as I have noticed, are engaged in small initiatives though with much struggle. At one local church I was privileged to work with for example, the believers were struggling to build a sanctuary. They had managed to raise it up to window level. The Pastor informed that the youth of the church had made the mud for making the bricks. This was a powerful example of poor churches taking initiative; I did not hesitate to share that example when I visited other churches soon after that. I learnt that other than churches in poor communities waiting to have everything done for them through opportunities of a partnership, they to, can do something, and indeed a lot for themselves. Of course the project is not over yet, but when it is finished, the believers in that particular church will not have any other person to thank but will be saying “we did this ourselves.”
Encouraging efforts of the local churches will also include identifying and encouraging possibilities. Sometimes the local churches will need support in identifying possible opportunities. Numerous opportunities do exist. Most times, the only support needed is one of maximizing the already existing opportunities and not necessarily creating new ones.
Local churches must deal with, or be helped to change their limiting mindset. I noted above that the circumstances in which they minister affects the way they perceive themselves. This, to a large extent, and especially the churches that have received assistance along the way, has created a mindset of “always expecting help.” Help is definitely not bad given the challenging circumstances in which these churches minister. However, the helped seem to have developed and held to the belief that ‘once I am helped I will always be helped.’ This has killed the initiative they had before the help came and galvanized the limiting mindset.
In dealing with a limiting mindset, the churches should find ways of adding to, or even multiplying the help that they receive rather than only having to wait for the help. Members have to be reminded that when one is found “down”, you help them up, out of their “down” situation. You may help them walk ahead a little but the goal is for them to be enabled to continue ahead on their own, without help. You don’t help the person from “down”. I think that practices of helping the needy “from down” should as much as possible be avoided, they kill initiative and cause the helped to see themselves as those who can’t get up, as those who will always need to be helped from “down”.
People can be empowered to change their mindset regardless of their “down” situation. In Acts of Apostles chapter 3, the cripple who had been “down” for years and had come to believe and accept his “down” situation as a permanent one, was helped up by the Apostles, through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles did not see helping the cripple from down as the best option. They empowered him to continue on his own long after they had gone.
How can local churches that serve in the context of poverty be empowered to realize their mission?