Giving of Ourselves, Not Just Our Resources
In Radical, David Platt repeats Bonhoeffer’s reminder that the first call every Christian experiences is “the call to abandon the attachments of this world” (page 14). This is an important corrective to the “benefits-oriented” Christianity of our day.
In reflecting on Platt’s call to embrace God’s concern for the lost and poor, I was reminded of the need to consider the long-term implications of our actions. For more than 30 years I have been thinking, writing and speaking about such long-term effects of unhealthy dependency in the Christian movement. Much of this dependency is the result of well-meaning outsiders giving from their excess resources, sometimes indiscriminately. Unfortunately, indiscriminate giving has the potential to destroy initiative, integrity, self-esteem, faith and the desire to give.
Platt rightly reflects God’s call for His people to share His concern for the poor. But there are many kinds of poor, and many causes for poverty. And caring radically for the poor calls us to be clear-minded about responding appropriately to each individual according to their context:
- Where masses are displaced and facing starvation from war or natural disaster, creating needs (like the 20 million recently stripped of their homes and possessions by flooding in Pakistan), the love of Christ compels us to act. But even here wisdom should guide us. Let us avoid the temptation to rush in as the “great white deliverer” without regard for the wisdom and resources that are already present. Instead let us come alongside to ask, as Jesus did, what the people themselves are wanting (in expertise, etc.), and how our financial and other resources can best serve what they believe God wants to do for their land. Where long-term missionary efforts are present, we should seek guidance from missionaries and local community leadership regarding what kind of help they most need.
- Where globalization (or lack thereof) has left large populations without gainful employment, we can and should work alongside local leaders to create sustainable industries that provide discipling opportunities for employers and employees, resulting in both local and global benefits. The capital investment required to develop industries in impoverished lands will often be a more effective long-term benefit to the poor than simply providing outside resources.
- Where sickness is so widespread as to overwhelm local resources, we can again serve the local leadership under the guidance of long-term missionaries toward developing sustainable solutions and eradicating diseases.
- However, where people are simply poorer than we are, but have food, shelter, health and gainful employment, we must guard against the compassion-driven impulse to treat them as poor people in need of rescue. When we give way to this temptation, my experience shows that we can rob them of dignity and the likelihood of discovering God’s power to work through them with what they have to multiply disciples of the King.
Steve Saint’s book, The Great Omission, provides a marvelous blueprint for how intentional financial investment in low-cost technology can help those we seek to serve to overcome dependency and become self-sufficient in multiplying churches, and in everything else—from dental care to elementary forms of air travel.
Giving More Than Money
Platt is right to remind us of “the call to abandon the attachments of this world,” but why does that sound so radical? Perhaps western Christians too often assume that outside funding is the main ingredient in modern missions. It certainly wasn’t in the ministry of the Apostle Paul or among Chinese churches which grew dramatically on local resources alone following 1951. If radical Christianity calls us to anything, it should call us to the kind of discipleship that includes giving ourselves, not just our resources. The greatest poverty can only be met through incarnational witness. God sent His Son, not just resources.
It is most encouraging that members of Platt’s congregation are selling their homes and moving overseas or to the inner-city to minister. With proper cross-cultural preparation, this can have a powerful, multiplying effect if we come alongside those to whom we minister in a way that builds on the resources already available where people live and work. Remember, however, that the call to radical discipleship is just as important for those being reached as it is for those who seek to serve them. If we provide outside resources without calling attention to the need for giving back to God, we may be doing our giving, but those on the other end may become permanent receivers, rather than givers themselves.
As we become radical in our giving, let us also become radical in our wisdom, and ask: “Will my giving turn those I seek to help into permanent receivers, or will it help them become (radical) givers and followers of Jesus?