Four Takeaways from Dr Brian Fikkert on how the church can reduce poverty
Dr. Brian Fikkert is founder and President of The Chalmers Center. He is an expert in equipping and informing the Church in how to minister well to the poor and reduce poverty. Dr. Fikkert joined The Reconnect this week to help us rethink poverty alleviation and provide concrete ways each of us can help. He is the author of When Helping Hurts: Alleviating the Poverty Without Hurting The Poor…And Ourselves.
Listen to our entire interview with Dr. Fikkert here:
Here are four takeaways from our conversation:
1. Rethink poverty. Look at the causes, not just the symptoms
“Poverty is not solely a material phenomenon,” Fikkert says. “Rather the material lack that we see in people is typically a symptom of something deeper, some underlying brokenness in people’s foundational relationships— with God, with themselves and others, with the rest of creation.”
Dr Fikkert then urges us to look not just at the symptoms of poverty. We must diagnose the causes of poverty properly. He uses the example of visiting the doctor. For example, you go to a doctor with a headache and the doctor could give you aspirin. But if you actually have a brain tumor, you could die from having your symptoms treated instead of the causes.
2. Empowerment through relationships equals change
Rethinking poverty in this way also means rethinking how we address it, he says. “Because poverty is rooted in broken relationships, it will take a highly relational approach to restore the poor. A relational approach is slow, arduous and full of stops and starts. It is highly people intensive.”
“What we really need are people to walk alongside that person in ways that are empowering. In ways that ask that person what their gifts are. What kinds of gifts and abilities and networks do they have. What are their dreams and their goals. And how can we walk with them to use their gifts and their resources to achieve their dreams and their goals. It is really just befriending people and walking with them across time in ways that helps restore them to image bearing.
He encourages us to get our know our neighbors, don’t try to fix them.
“The first step is just developing an empowering friendship— a friendship based not on how can I fix you, how can I be the savior in their life. But based the truth God has created you in His image. You are a person with dignity and with capacity. Let’s discover that image bearing in you and help that to flourish. That’s a different approach.”
Over time, ask them questions and come along side them to improve their own community. He says, “It is a process of doing things with people instead of doing things for people.”
3. The Church’s greatest need in reducing poverty is not money, but people willing to invest their lives
“For most of us, our most valuable resource is our time. We are far more prone to write a check than to walk in highly relational and empowering ways.”
When it comes to fighting poverty in America, Dr. Fikkert challenges, “We are not lacking money, we are lacking people who have time and who are willing to sacrifice that time on behalf of the needy amongst us. Until we get to that point where we are willing to sacrifice our time and open our homes, we are not really very good solutions to poverty right now.”
4. The American Church is too far removed from the poor
By comparison, Dr. Fikkert shares his experience in working with churches in Africa. “We are far more successful in mobilizing churches in Togo than mobilizing churches in the United States. We are able to help hundreds of thousands of people in Africa and only a handful in the US. The reason is partly because the gap in the US church is often so big between the church members and materially poor. In a place like Togo, the church isn’t ministering to the poor, the church is comprised of the poor. The lack of that gap makes them better suited to minister to the poor both inside the church and outside the church.
“The problem in America is the church is too far removed from the poor in most cases.”
What an astounding statement.
So when it comes down to it, Dr. Fikkert urges us to consider if we are willing to sacrifice our time and our lifestyles to actually immerse ourselves in the lives of people who are poor. The question is if we are willing to do, as Isaiah 58:10, instructs to “pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted.”
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