Brother Tom is a grassroots church planter in an Asian city. For the past twenty years he has worked with a global organization on creating access and sustainability for church planting.
1. Please explain your particular focus on the grassroots and the poor.
Jesus focused on the poor. His first message was, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to preach good news to the poor.” Then he said, “This is fulfilled in your hearing.” We have often missed the key fact that Jesus said the gospel is good news to the poor. Jesus also assured us that how we have served the “least of these” reflects on our serving him. Paul also taught remembering the poor as a key component in his teaching that was affirmed by the apostles.
Secondly, from a church planting perspective, if we reach the poor then the rich might come. However, if we focus on the rich and educated, the poor are often marginalized.
2. What do you see as the unique role of the church in China in this regard?
China’s church is at a place where it has one of the greatest opportunities in history because of its size and its wealth. If they take seriously Jesus’ model and command, they could potentially fulfill what their government originally set out to do, which was to care for the poor. This is an opportunity for the church to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus in a tangible way. They have the opportunity to be prophetic in saying, “Our government has made progress over the past sixty years, at great cost and with great evil, resulting in a country that has one of the greatest wealth gaps in the world, but we have the will and the means to do something about the poor out of a love for Jesus.”
If the church comes alongside the poor in a genuine servant position, rather than just giving handouts, it can help the poor develop their own sustainable solutions. The other side of interaction with the poor, especially in Asia, is that the church is pushed into a position where demonstrations of God’s power rather than great arguments become the foundation of faith for the poor.
3. What are the elements of a sustainable development model?
Ask first, what’s in their hands? Asset-based community development says that all communities have assets in their hands, and if you can maximize these then the community becomes sustainable. Help them to see that business is not unholy, but is a way to steward the assets God has entrusted to them. Have poorer communities do an asset assessment and let the Holy Spirit show them what God has already provided.
In our experience there are five key patterns that keep people in poverty:
- They have not been taught to keep track of money.
- They are unable to preserve capital (but instead choose to use or spend whatever they have rather than investing for the future).
- They can’t say “no” to the demands of family.
- Corruption (requires culturally appropriate solutions developed by people within their own context).
- Not anticipating future expenses in the ebb and flow of a business.
The book of Proverbs contains 100 proverbs on business that can be readily used to teach Christians in poor communities how to address these five areas.
Image credit: Rest area by Gauthier DELECROIX - 郭天 via Flickr.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio