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The poor

Nobody else was as interested in the poor as Jesus, yet the Church has an underused mandate for entrepreneurial wealth creation to the benefit of others. What role the Christian entrepreneur? 

The fourth blog in a five part series exploring how the workplace can inform our faith



What is Jesus’ take on the poor?

Luke describes Jesus’ mission statement from a synagogue in Nazareth: to preach good news to the poor. Since there were plenty of zealots dying to do something, why not tap into the vibe and act rather than talk?

First, then, a word about talking. I was nine when Jack Swigert announced, ‘Okay, Houston, we've had a problem here.’ Decades later, Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 revisited the mission with Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz, and I would watch it with a lecture theatre full of final year students as part of their project management module. Kranz could only talk: he could say which switch to throw or which manual to cut up (watch the film) but he couldn’t do anything. Reading his book, I grasped the blessing of talking and realised the difference between doing things for people and with them.

Is Jesus’ offer to the poor just words?

God is so much more than Mission Control: in dying, Jesus does for us what we could not do for ourselves. Jesus dies for the poor as he dies for the rich, the powerful, the brainy or good-looking and opens the doors of the Kingdom to all. He offers forgiveness with purpose in a Spirit-empowered life now, and resurrection into life to come. While he helps by healing and feeding, above all Jesus’ teaching brings hope – nobody else was as interested in the poor as was Jesus.

According to Luke, Jesus taught subversively: about the Church (a mix of people learning to live together now while learning to worship together for later) and using those strange, twisting, parables. When the disciples try to live this way, they discover that their spiritual bonds demand tangible responses and in Luke’s second volume they fund the first foodbank for their widows. Giving is good and generations of Christians have followed suit, even if it is trendy today to discount their pioneering heroism.

Seen through a subversive lens, much of Luke springs into new life:

The wise and foolish builders (Luke 6: 46-49)
Feeding the 5,000 (Luke 9: 10-17, Note v 13)
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37)
The parable of the fortunate farmer (Luke 12: 13-21)
The parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16: 1-12)
The stories of the rich ruler (Luke 18: 18-30) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10)
The parable of the 10 minas (Luke 19: 11-27)
The parable of the thieves who try to steal the vineyard (Luke 20: 9-19)
The narrative around paying taxes (20: 20-26)

So much that relates, one way or another, to the workplace!

My take is that the first church had an unsustainable model: they could not sell property forever to generate funds. It is hardly surprising that they suffered when famine struck or that Paul had to run a collection from the new churches to tide them over.

In Thank God for Football, Peter Lupson describes how Victorian churches targeted the pubs in which men would drink away the weekly food budget, by setting up athletic, boxing, and football clubs, some of which are still in the Premier League. They were soon incorporating their clubs – and a league to play in! While many Victorians saw the workforce as something to be mined ruthlessly for riches, Christians were starting to work out their creative calling in business. Today, we are comfortable with the idea of Christian medics in hospital or Christian lawyers in court or Christian musicians in the studio. What role the Christian entrepreneur?

Sustainable good

We know the adage about giving a fish to feed someone for a day or providing a net to feed them for life. The trouble is that we keep the give-a-fish mentality when we venture into provide-a-living territory. A net doesn’t fix everything, especially if it keeps snagging or if the tide goes out for a decade. But a job may be more dignifying and sustaining than anything else we can offer. However, you can’t give a proper job, you can only employ someone.

Earlier this year, I met a Christian teacher working with disabled children in the Americas. The poverty and isolation were appalling but any fix would cost a fortune to set up and maintain. As we played the options back and forth, it emerged that many local Christians were into a prosperity gospel, believing that God’s greatest desire for them was that they should be rich.

What if there were a way, I wondered, to subvert one community’s prosperity gospel into creating jobs for the other community, where a little imagination and investment would guarantee self-sufficiency? An accountant in a wheelchair is very employable here, but not there. On-line accounting businesses work anywhere, and the on-line world is just opening up. It won’t feed everyone, but it might be a start for the right Christian with the right background and the right idea.

Some of the first feedback I got (from two widely separated countries) was that corruption would soon kill off any Christian business. So, when Paul urges us to pray for rulers in order that Christians can live in peace, we can pray against corruption in business as well as praying for Christians in prison or for the fulltime workers we support from our church. It would be a wild way to pray if we followed it through.

Like the first disciples with the hungry crowd, we cannot imagine how to raise the funds to ameliorate the surrounding need. The workplace is a natural environment for generating income to pay the bills. In some cases, a Christian entrepreneur may achieve what a country full of givers could not. This is not our normal agenda: we tend to look at our bank balance, or seek to influence government, or ask someone much richer than us to give. In its place, each may be an appropriate response. 

But we can also look to the workplace. Since it is often a mess, this leads us to the last blog in the series: redeeming the workplace.


This is the fourth blog in a five-part series:
  1. How can I bring the workplace into my faith? - While Jesus clearly rejected worldly values, the parables in Luke showed he thought some worldly methods worth a second glance. I am now increasingly convinced that we need to revisit and rethink the workplace, perhaps radically so
  2. Making better decisions and developing people - What can churches learn from the workspace about decisions, development, and supporting good people? 
  3. Evangelism - Churches have accidentally silenced the very people who are most in touch with the dis-evangelised coal face. What is the latest thinking? Where is technology taking us? What philosophies are already changing our lives? Somewhere among the Church’s secular workforce someone will sense an answer. But that is not how we plan evangelism. How could we do better?
  4. The poor - Nobody else was as interested in the poor as Jesus, yet the Church has an underused mandate for entrepreneurial wealth creation to the benefit of others. What role the Christian entrepreneur? 
  5. Redeeming the workplace - Having denied working Christians a voice in church, it is hardly surprising that the Church has lost its voice at work. What was supposed to be a creative space where effort generates wealth that spills over and blesses society, is more often a meaningless grind. So how can the workplace be redeemed?



Image | Unsplash

Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor


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Baptist Times, 10/04/2019
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