by Katie Lineberger
Words matter. The change of one simple word in a phrase can make all the difference. Words convey a message, which is why it is so important for us to consider the difference between “ministry to/for the poor”, and “ministry WITH the poor.” The change of a single word makes ministry look different. At its most basic, one form of ministry is a hand out and the other is a hand up. One form of ministry is hands-off, and the other is relational. One form of ministry will help someone out, and the other will transform lives. It is crucial that in our churches we put an emphasis on ministry WITH the poor. Why is that?
When we are in ministry with, rather than to or for, we are respecting cultures, practices, resources, and giftedness of any given people or community. In ministry with we take the time learn names, stories, and real needs. Ministry with takes out the assumptions we tend to make about people and situations. It empowers and equips people to live into God’s reality for them.
When I’ve visited places of brokenness, poverty, and suffering, both in my community and abroad, in most cases what I’ve witnessed are not needy, helpless people. Instead I’ve met hard-working, passionate, creative, faithful people who don’t need someone to do for them, but rather someone to walk alongside them, offering support, resources, or a hand when needed.
Supporting other ministries and agencies with donated items or money is an important piece. There is a place in the church for offering this kind of support. But in order for real life transformation to take place another step must be taken. For most of us, writing a check is easy. Picking up a few extra cans of food at the grocery store to donate isn’t a burden for most. Cleaning out our closets for clothes to give away is actually a welcome practice. Transformation takes place when we enter into ministry with the poor, by encountering Christ in another.
Ministry with embodies our beliefs as Jesus-followers, created for connection, relationship, and transformation. Ministry with embodies Paul’s instruction to “regard others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3-8). It is lived trust in God’s prevenient grace, that when we go into places of brokenness, places of poverty, we know that God was there long before we arrived, working in the lives of the people. Ministry with is about living into that reality in order to learn from someone else and experience God in and through them. In ministry with we learn what it’s like the walk in their shoes, we learn a new reality, and partner with to walk alongside them. Ministry with transforms not only their lives but ours as well. It’s about vulnerability. It’s about humility. It’s about partnership. It’s the way of Jesus. Relationship is what we were created for and relationship with the least of these of what we are called to as Christ-followers. It’s a game-changer for life and ministry.
Katie Lineberger is the Pastor of Clarksbury UMC in Harmony and the Chair of the WNCC Mission Engagement Team.