I saw a headline recently that said “The Church is Too Generous to the Needy.”
At first, it was hard for me to believe anyone could actually say there’s such a thing as “too much generosity,” particularly when in reference to God’s people. It seemed something akin to saying, “The Church is being too joyful to the downcast” or “Christ-followers are being too loving to people around them.”
As it turned it out, the link next to the headline on Twitter led to a 4 minute video of Bob Lupton discussing how wealthy westerners have mindlessly given money and resources to poorer countries in reckless ways that have led to issues of (co?)dependency and have been ultimately counterproductive.
In other words, the issue isn’t really that “the Church is too generous to the needy.” It’s that the Church hasn’t been thoughtful enough in the “hows” of it’s generosity. As a result, it has enabled dependency on wealthy donors/churches. It should instead invest in the systemic issues underlying poverty, which will allow the material poor to have opportunity to engage their personal gifting in productive, meaningful and sustainable work.
In this sense, I think it would be far more accurate and helpful to say “the church’s generosity has too often been misguided.” Or maybe even “true generosity is more than merely giving things away to the poor.”
But alas, those are not attention-getting headlines.
Having said that, this is a very healthy conversation that has gotten increasingly widespread attention over the last number of years in global development circles (see Easterly and Sacks) and it’s such a good thing that the Western church is asking similar questions with regard to it’s international engagement. Just a couple of years before Lupton’s book Toxic Charity was published, another book entitled When Helping Hurts was released. Though I’ve only read the latter, my guess is that the premise (articulated in preceding paragraphs here) is fundamentally the same in both works.
Though Christian Associates is not a poverty relieving NGO, it could be described as a church planting organization with significant social cause initiatives. Given the countries we are now in, there will likely be increasing opportunity for our staff to address issues of poverty as a result of our holistic understanding of the Gospel.
Since we have had non-Americans speaking in to the mission and vision of the organization as leaders for some time, we are well-positioned to listen to the communities we are called to via staff who are cultural insiders. Ideally, it will help us avoid swooping in with one-size-fits-all funding solutions or church construction projects.
That international flavor is something about CA that originally attracted me to work with them. We have German church planters in Sweden, a Dutch leader in Spain, and recently retired British church planters in Portugal, to say nothing of an amazing group of church planters from Brazil leading the way in their own country. We also have a remarkable team of Eastern Europeans starting churches and caring for orphans in their homeland in ways that Westerners are currently cut off from.
This ethnically diverse mix of our people often reveals to us that our theological frameworks usually come with unavoidable cultural robes (baggage?). Better yet, it gives us the enlightening experience of seeing new opportunities for missional engagement and Kingdom demonstration through the perspective of myriad cultural lenses.
Americans being challenged by a Dutch perspective. Dutch faith assumptions being questioned by an Uruguayan perspective. Uruguayan understanding of God’s Kingdom being interrogated from an Eastern European point of view. Of course it all makes perfect sense when the Brits arrive just in time for tea and put the conversation to rest with claims to the Queen, The Beatles, and the invention of modern sport. And the sandwich.
But seriously. It all evokes something of the new Creation when people from every tongue, tribe and nation will worship before God’s throne, no seating section more superior than another. Death and disease, poverty and ethnic tension will be no more.
May echoes of that day increasingly be heard through the Church even today.