Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life

Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life

Rethinking Ministry to the Poor
  • Author: Robert Lupton
  • Review By: G. Stephen Goode
  • 12 January 2011

I read this book because I saw that Robert Lupton had worked with John Perkins, chairing the board of Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) as well as served the inner city of Chicago for more than three decades. John Perkins is one of my heroes and he has mentored me by his books for more than 25 years. Mr. Lupton must have something to say about poverty, justice and making a difference. He also had something in the title that anyone who has worked with the poor for any length of time becomes aware of and that is the need for, "rethinking ministry to the poor." I was not disappointed in this simple but profound book and it is a must read for every church with outreach to the poor, every church leader, volunteer and business person. 

This book starts with Jesus as our model and what he had to say about the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, evangelism, the Kingdom of God, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God? If we are going to be like Jesus, our Gospel is going to be relevant for those whom we serve or those whom we develop. And the journey of this book started here, from betterment to community development, from developing food coops to buying land and having mixed income families in communities. I have read this book through twice. You will be so encouraged reading this book, even though it also shares the challenges and difficulties and downsides of loving our neighbor. 

The worse kind of charity is doing for others what they can do for themselves. Mr. Lupton calls this betterment or doing for others whereas development enables others to do for themselves. Betterment begins with felt need but it cannot stay there. He gives wonderful examples of successes and failure. 

I want to mention a concept that is worth buying the book for and it is called exchange. In this example of starting a family store and charging clients for clothes rather than giving them away free from a community clothes closet. He writes, 

"This experience revealed that people, perhaps universally, would far rather engage in legitimate exchange than be the object of another's pity. There is something in one-way giving that erodes human dignity. This kind of compassion subtly communicates to the recipient, "You have nothing of value that I desire in return." One-way mercy ministry, as kind hearted as the giver may be and as well-intentioned, is an unmistakable form of put-down. 

On the other hand, everyone loves to engage in the process of exchange. Everyone loves to find a bargain. There is something life affirming when someone comes to the bargaining table with a resource to barter. The playing field is leveled. The eyeing of each other's commodity takes place from both sides of the bargaining table. 

Both sides have a choice; both sides weigh the worth of the other's commodity. A deal is struck, an exchange is made. And remarkably, both parties leave the encounter feeling like they have gained more value than they brought. " 

We are using this book to rethink our ministry to the poor locally and globally. We are already changing our thinking and our actions due to this book and you will too.  

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