Churches and pastors are often eager to respond to the problems of global poverty and injustice. Yet before they take steps to address these problems, pastors — like anyone else — want to know how they can make a difference. Because there are so many hurting people whose communities face complex obstacles, I’m frequently asked what one person or one church can do.
If you’re a fellow church or ministry leader, you know God doesn’t promise that the odds will always be in our favor when accomplishing the work he has set before us.
When church leaders look today at the scale of global poverty, it’s easy to feel like the numbers are stacked against them.
- 1 billion people suffer from a lack of adequate nutrition.
- Half of the children in developing countries are born into poverty.
- 1.4 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.
Compared to those staggering figures, the size of the average church in America is only 186 regular attenders. Sounds a bit like Gideon facing thousands of Midianites, “thick as locusts,” with 300 men.
What can a typical church in Michigan or Oklahoma do when poverty and justice issues are so big, global, and daunting? When pastors ask me what their church can do to help meet the needs of hurting people around the world, I give them four ideas.
Any church — no matter the size — can:
Gideon’s army didn’t prevail because of strength or strategy, but because God was in their camp. We must never cease to pray as we consider the size of the challenge and the ruthlessness of the enemy we face. Prayer enlists a God who is bigger than any problem, and God has promised to be at our side as we engage the world Jesus sent us into. In Matthew 28:20 (NIV), he says, “Surely, I am with you always. …”
While we depend on prayer, there is much that we can do with our hands as well. For a local church, the most obvious place to act is locally. Children need tutors, shut-ins need visitors, and hurting people need shoulders to lean on.
Many churches also want to act overseas. Partnering with an organization like World Vision can allow a small church to take smart action in response to needs around the world. We have deep roots in the communities in which we work, and we are eager to partner with churches to share our knowledge and offer our help.
Even the smallest churches can make a difference. It may not be practical for your church to tackle the famine in the Horn of Africa, start a microfinance bank, or begin drilling clean water boreholes, but any church has access to the financial resources desperately needed to help accomplish these things and more. We live in the wealthiest nation of Christians in the history of Christianity. At the same time, $50 can help buy clean water for one person for a lifetime. No matter the size of the church, a modest financial gift can be life-saving for someone in need.
Using your influence as a church can maximize your impact. Help change the world by influencing the people, policies, and systems that could have a more dramatic impact on the poor than a small church could ever have.
Lately, I’ve been impressed by how important it is for the church to use its influence. Let me give you just one example. The humanitarian assistance budget of our government has been threatened with an unprecedented 40-percent reduction in funding. That amounts to around $10 billion. Not everyone agrees about the proper role of government in alleviating poverty overseas. But we can be sure that if this cut is made, thousands and maybe even millions of people could die because food aid is stopped, malaria prevention programs are scrapped, health and clean water programs are shuttered, or anti-retroviral drugs are cut off.
A church can stand in the gap for the defenseless and save more lives than any missions program could possibly afford. This kind of influence can be powerful on a local level, where poverty, homelessness, and economic injustice require the church to address the structures that may prevent the poor from improving their lives.
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No matter the size of your church, God calls you to do something. As the saying goes, what counts is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. Thankfully, we can all pray, act, give, and influence for the sake of the gospel.
World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns is the author of The Hole In Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.
Explore how your church can partner with World Vision and do more to be the hands and feet of Christ in areas of the world where the need and suffering are great.
Does your church have other ideas? We want to hear them! Share your thoughts as comments below.