It takes a combination of business acumen, faith, and a heart to see God’s creation made more useful to effectively engage the mission to reduce poverty. The unsung heroes of poverty reduction are the job creators who manufacture wealth that is redistributed by the most vocal of the poverty fighters.
Allow me to explain the scenario in layman’s terms. When a good is manufactured, it is developed by means of what we call labor. Those participating in the initial work, or the funding of it, often share in the product’s recompense except in the case of slavery. Some of our most outspoken poverty spokespersons are rarely involved in the construction of the goods that are distributed to lessen economic dearth.
Advocating for the impoverished is an honorable role. It is how we advocate that makes the difference. Furnishing a beggar with a louder bullhorn without educating him on the principles of hard work and social collaboration enables him to avoid asking the Lord to bless the work of his hands (Ps. 90:17). Perhaps the church can help distinguish between well-advised poverty programs and the promotion of covetousness.
The Restoration of Work
In my previous role as chief executive of a manufacturing non-profit corporation, I had the responsibility of serving the Lord by way of restoring lives damaged by incarceration, drug abuse, and homelessness. The non-profit provided jobs through the production of furniture, commercial transportation, and storage. It was a joy to see former welfare recipients, violent ex-offenders, and the slothful rightfully engage the marketplace by providing something useful to society. It was even more fulfilling to see staff grow in Christ by actively participating in corporate ministry by helping to “pastor” those under the organization’s care.
Upon speaking with one of my former employees who became a master welder, he shared with me that he had spent 17 years in prison. He also indicated that he had minimal work experience before incarceration. Upon becoming a skilled craftsman, his life became more significant to him. He stated that he totally abhors the criminal lifestyle and enjoys being a good example to his family.
The formerly chronically unemployed found new meaning in life as they were now able to prioritize hard-earned funds in relation to wants and needs. Hiring someone who has little work experience requires that they be taught the importance of showing up to work, being on-time, and respecting the workplace and their co-workers. The challenges include transportation, childcare, safe housing, food security, etc. As the individual earns a steady salary over time, these issues diminish, but initially, they are a very real part of their everyday life.
How To Care For The Poor
Historically, faith-based communities directly confronted poverty by involving the poor in the solution. For many people the state has become the church. A faceless welfare system has created incentives for the church to be shunned as a beacon of light. Government pays them, houses them, feeds them, controls them, and even gives them purpose and a motivation for being. It is to the visible church’s detriment to ignore this reality.
God instructed the Israelites on how to provide for the poor in conjunction with his instructions regarding a harvest feast (Lev. 23:22). The gleaner had the responsibility to actively participate in laborious activity which also discouraged laziness. The gleaners weren’t brought a basket of figs. They reported to work just like everyone else and were given parameters while partaking at the expense of the producer. The rigid effort and low wage from gleaning was an encouragement to get out of poverty and abandon freeload. The unique approach of involving the poor in the work is a crucial element in attempting to assist in the restoration of people’s lives.
In a previous essay, Dr. Art Lindsley elaborated on the seminal perspective of Dorothy L. Sayers, Why Work, who understood that there are only “two sources of real wealth: the fruit of the earth and the labor of men.”
It is laudable to slice off abundance to care for the poor, but losing sight of the benefactor’s personal responsibility and the social capital that goes with it only exacerbates the problem.
Perhaps by changing the way we deal with poverty will leave more than enough resources to allow the nuclear community to care for the authentically destitute. By exhibiting and understanding our work as sacred, we can invite the impoverished to join as responsible stewards in glorifying our Lord while asking Him to anoint the work of our hands.