Agents of Reconciliation

The New Testament consistently describes Jesus’ work on the cross as “reconciliation” (Col. 1:20. etc.), which means putting things back into right relationship again. The Apostle Paul also teaches that we also have a role in reconciliation.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18–20).

It’s important that we recognize that we are not the reconcilers. Jesus is. However, we are Christ’s ambassadors, representing His kingdom and all that it entails to a broken world, which leads to the following definition of poverty alleviation:

Poverty Alleviation As the Ministry of Reconciliation

Poverty alleviation is fundamentally a ministry of reconciliation: moving people closer to glorifying God by living in right relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.

Reconciliation of relationships is the guiding compass for our poverty-alleviation efforts, profoundly shaping both the goals that we pursue and the methods we use.

The goal of poverty alleviation is not to somehow make people all over the world in material poverty into middle-to-upper-class North Americans—a group, we should note, characterized by high rates of divorce, sexual addiction, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

Nor is the goal only to make sure that those in material poverty have enough money and resources. For example, a welfare system ensures people have enough to survive, but that keeps them dependent on the system (with intentional or unintentional benefits “cliffs” or other disincentives to work hard, get promotions, and earn more) is not really setting people up for flourishing.

Rather, the goal is to restore people to a full expression of humanness, to being what God created us all to be—people who glorify God by living in right relationship with Him, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation. One of the many manifestations of these relationships being reconciled is material poverty alleviation.

Material poverty alleviation is working to reconcile the four foundational relationships so that people can fulfill their callings to glorify God through working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work.

Work as Empowerment and Worship

There are two key things to note in this definition. First, poverty alleviation involves more than ensuring that people have sufficient material things. It also involves the much harder task of empowering people to earn sufficient material things through their own labor, for in so doing, we move people closer to being what God created them to be. Of course, we recognize that this is impossible for some people because of disability or other factors. The fact that people are designed to work does not override our call to be compassionate, and many with disabilities desire to work and can, with appropriate tasks and accommodations.

Second, work is an act of worship. When people seek to fulfill their callings by glorifying God in their work, praising Him for their gifts and abilities, and seeing both their efforts and its products as an offering to Him, then work is an act of worship to God. On the other hand, when work is done to glorify oneself or merely to achieve more wealth, it becomes a misdirected worship toward ends that are ultimately false gods. How we work and for whom we work really matters.

Defining poverty alleviation as the reconciliation of relationships also shapes the methods our churches or ministries should use to achieve that goal. How we approach reconciliation has major implications for how we choose, design, implement, and evaluate our efforts.

Restoring people to sustaining work transforms individuals, families, and communities. If you’re interested in learning more about launching a work readiness ministry at your church or nonprofit, you can book a call with a Chalmers staff member to discuss whether Work Life is a good fit for you.

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center

The Chalmers Center helps God’s people rethink poverty and respond with practical biblical principles so that all are restored to flourishing.

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