Ten years ago The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson awakened Christians to the fact that most communities wouldn’t notice if local churches disappeared. The book played a huge role in rebirthing gospel-motivated social consciousness among evangelicals. Armed with hand tools and paint brushes, whole congregations headed to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, extending the love of Jesus through acts of service.
While fixing up blighted neighborhoods is a good thing to do, there’s a much better way to help the poor. Eric Swanson offers perspective in his latest blog, which was inspired by discussion with a friend over the question: "What would you do if you had a billion dollars?"
After batting around ideas, they settled on a common course of action. “We'd use the billion dollars to create real sustainable jobs. We'd be angel investors and funders and let entrepreneurs pitch their ideas. We'd create an X-Prize for job creation...or maybe an X Prize in each country, given to the person/company that created the most jobs for the poor and previously unemployed of their country. Would that be a kick or not?”
Swanson and his friend are onto something critical—and it’s something often overlooked by Christians who sincerely want to help the poor. People need jobs to flourish—physically, emotionally and spiritually. They need good work that allows them to provide food, clothing and shelter for their family. They need meaningful work that gives them the opportunity to use their mind and hands, and fulfill their God-given purpose. They need work in which they join fellow human beings in making the world a better place, bringing God’s creation to full flower.
Certainly, it’s wonderful when business leaders volunteer their time to paint classrooms and clean up vacant lots in distressed areas. Many of them donate thousands, even millions, of dollars to organizations that help the poor—again, wonderful! But what if they used their leadership gifts and financial firepower to do what they do best: create jobs, good jobs that bring dignity rather than a handout. Jobs that lift heads, boost self-respect and allow people to buy their own food, clothing and shelter. Jobs that let them earn enough so they can experience the joy of serving neighbors who need help.
Swanson asks an important question. “If your church or a wealthy individual had $250K to invest in your community, would the community not be better off if it was invested in creating sustainable, tax-generating, charity-donating jobs?”
So why isn’t this happening? Surely a key reason is that this kind of initiative is beyond the experience of most pastors and ministry leaders. While churches and ministry organizations are great at finding ways to meet people’s spiritual and immediate physical needs, that’s not enough. To break the cycle of poverty we must help people find meaningful work so they can meet their own needs. And, though it’s foreign territory to ministry leaders, it’s the bailiwick of business leaders in churches across every city.
But there's another more obvious reason. Making a donation of $250K--much less a billion--is beyond most of us. But that doesn't let us off the hook. Jesus made it clear that it's not necessarily big things that fuel His kingdom--and most often it's small things. Remember the mustard seed? Jesus said,
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)
God can take the smallest action, sacrifice, or initiative done in faith and grow something big that helps people flourish, spiritually and physically.
The past few months I’ve had the privilege of leading a group of small business leaders to reflect on these issues and consider how we might challenge Christians in Dallas to use their business expertise and financial resources to create good work for other Dallasites who are trapped in poverty. January 23rd we will join several hundred other Christians at Greater Dallas Movement Day to learn and discuss possible solutions to such problems.
Even with a mustard seed, just imagine what could happen if we moved job creation to the top of priority list for serving the poor.
Watch this video to jumpstart your imagination.