Walking Well with Churches in the Majority World
If you’ve been following our work at the Chalmers Center for long, you know that what drives us as an organization is our commitment to equipping local churches around the world for ministry through a biblical framework for addressing material poverty. This multifaceted framework includes understanding human beings, walking in God’s story of change, the causes of material poverty, best practices in poverty alleviation, and more.
These ministry principles are foundational to holistic, relational development work. They’re just as important to doing job training in South Memphis or benevolence ministry in rural South Carolina as they are to helping churches start savings groups in Vietnam or doing business development in a slum in Nairobi. This is because, as we’ve often said elsewhere, the goal of God’s story of change—and the goal of all our poverty alleviation efforts—isn’t to transform other countries into the United States or to turn a low-income urban neighborhood into a wealthy suburb, for all these places are fundamentally broken. Rather God’s story calls for all these places to become more like the New Jerusalem.1
Counting on the Majority World2
In God’s grand story, churches in the Majority World of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, have a critical role to play. These regions are home to the vast majority of people on earth, and a rich diversity of cultures and communities. They also are a place where billions who bear God’s image labor under the crushing weight of material poverty. In many ways the Majority World has also replaced Western Europe and the United States as the center of the global church.
Church historian Philip Jenkins notes that the typical Christian in the world in the twenty-first century is not a businessperson attending a megachurch in an American suburb, but rather a materially poor woman in a favela in Sao Paulo Brazil or in a village in Nigeria.3 Moreover, as the church seeks to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to make disciples of every nation (Matt. 28:19-20), the people groups who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus are often among the poorest people on the planet.
Missiologist Andrew Walls, reflected on the reality that the church of the twenty-first century will be a “church of the poor.” He said, “Christianity will mainly be the religion of rather poor and very poor people with few gifts to bring except the gospel itself. And the heartlands of the church will include some of the poorest countries on earth.”4
The global church increasingly consists of very poor people bringing the gospel to other very poor people.
Stop and think about this for a moment: The advancement of the Great Commission in the twenty-first century is largely in the hands of the poorest people on the planet.
None of this should surprise us! God has chosen “the lowly things of this world, and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:28-29). The kingdom of God is upside down; it has always been this way.
Helping without Hurting in the Majority World5
Coexisting with these materially poor churches is another group: Christians in wealthy nations who possess vastly greater financial, human, and technological resources than Christians have as any other point in history. Even the average Christian in North America or other wealthy regions is one of the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Indeed, there are greater disparities of wealth within the global body of Jesus Christ than any time before.
In this midst of this, the words of the apostle John ring out still: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
All these realities raise two profound questions for us:
- How can materially poor churches and indigenous missionaries in the Majority World advance the good news of God’s kingdom in the midst of widespread poverty inside their congregations and communities.
- What are the roles of financially prosperous churches, mission agencies, Christian relief and development organizations, church-equipping ministries, and donors in this process?
Unfortunately, the answer to this set of questions has too often been that well-meaning churches and organizations from wealthy countries pursue strategies that either ignore churches in the Majority World or that push them to be chronically dependent on outside resources for human and financial support.6
In the process, these strategies hinder the ability of these materially poor churches to use their own gifts—which are actually quite substantial—to fulfill their own callings as priests and rulers in God’s kingdom, spreading good news to the whole world.
Moreover, misguided poverty-alleviation efforts in the Majority World often undermine the dignity of materially poor individuals and communities, weakening their capacities, and often actually deepening their poverty.
Resources for Serving Well
The body of Christ needs to move away from dependency-creating strategies and toward dignity-enhancing strategies with respect to materially poor churches and the individuals and communities they serve. This requires transformation of the paradigms and practices of the body of Christ. Christians in wealthier nations need to recalibrate, listening more, learning to follow, and truly serving as we seek to use our resources to support churches in the Majority World in ways that bring mutual transformation to both groups.7
Over the next few weeks, our blog will focus on some of these strategies employed by the Chalmers Center and our organizational partners, and stories of transformation from this work.
As you walk with us in this conversation, here are a few of the resources we have developed through the years to help churches and organizations pursue healthy development strategies:
- From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance: Learn how local churches in the Majority World can use their own gifts and abilities to foster lasting spiritual, social, and economic transformation in the lives of people in extreme poverty.
- Restore: Savings: Designed for use in the Majority World, this curriculum helps people in extreme poverty weather the storms of life through church-based savings group ministries.
- Business, Home, and Health: A companion to Restore: Savings, offering a biblical framework for the everyday issues of life in the Majority World. BHH helps people living in extreme poverty improve their businesses using biblical principles, better manage household and business income, address basic health issues in their community, and strengthen their biblical worldview related to issues in their everyday lives.
- Helping Without Hurting in Africa: Based on principles from When Helping Hurts, this is contextualized training for leaders on how to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and apply a biblical framework for poverty alleviation as they care wisely and compassionately for people who are poor in their communities without doing harm. This book provides readers with the foundational concepts and tools in Christ-centered poverty alleviation and doubles as a ready-to-use facilitator manual for training events.
- Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions: Helps you take the Chalmers Center’s approach to poverty alleviation and apply it to short-term missions trips. Through the Leader’s Guide, discover how to design and lead a short-term mission trip that avoids harming the materially poor—and leads to lasting change in the lives of team members. Use the Participant’s Guide to prepare team members to engage in short-term missions in healthy ways and steward their experience well.
- Brian Fikkert and Kelly M. Kapic, Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019), 37.
- This section adapted from Brian Fikkert and Russell Mask, From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), 18-19.
- Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 92.
- Andrew Walls, “Demographics, Power, and the Gospel in the Twenty-first Century” (presentation, SIL International Conference and WBTI Convention, June 6, 2002), 6.
- This section adapted from Fikkert and Mask, From Dependence to Dignity, 19-20.
- Glenn J. Schwartz, When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement, A Compendium (Bloomington, IN: Author House, 2007).
- Fikkert and Mask, Dependence to Dignity, 20