LOUISVILLE—"This workshop was exactly what we needed, but we didn't know it," Jamie Reynolds, pastor of Premium Baptist Church in Whitesburg, said following the Understanding and Engaging Poverty seminar at First Baptist Church of Hindman on Oct. 4.
The training event, one of four seminars across the state last week, was led by Randy Pool, director of Mississippi River Ministries of Tennessee, who shared insights for ministering to people living in poverty to help church leaders discover how effective ministry provides more than material relief. Other seminar sites included Shelbyville, Somerset and Hopkinsville.
"The perspective that Randy brings, not just from knowledge and wisdom, but also from his personal experience, was refreshing and quite challenging," said Reynolds, who also is missions strategist for Three Forks Baptist Association. "He helped us to see through our own blind spots to find a biblical worldview in ministering to those among us who are in need."
Pool, who has served as an International Mission Board missionary in Central America, has seen dire poverty both on the mission field and in his ministry along the Mississippi River in Tennessee, where he has served for 18 years.
"I treated poverty like the Jews treated Samaritans; I would go out of my way to avoid them," Pool began. "I think that every one of us needs to learn to see those in poverty the way God sees them," he challenged.
Observing that parts of Kentucky are "a mission field," too, he encouraged Kentucky Baptist church and associational leaders to be engaged in "cross cultural ministry in your own backyard."
Offering participants six pages filled with Scriptures, Pool said, "I want you to see that God has a heart for the poor and needy.
"When you put on your heart the things that are on God's heart, you get to know God," he emphasized, pointing out Jeremiah 22:16.
Spotlighting the biblical story of the Feeding of the 5,000, Pool asserted, "Jesus sees people differently than you and I do. Where we see nuisance; He sees need."
Pool also urged participants to see those in poverty the way they see themselves—"not through the lens of our own upbringing, but we need to see them through their worldview," he said.
Most Southern Baptist churches are comprised of middle-class people, whose worldview differs from both those in poverty and the wealthy, Pool said.
Defining worldview as "the filters through which you process people and events around you," Pool drew from Ruby Paynes' book, "Framework for Understanding Poverty," in explaining some differences between those living in poverty and the middle-class in their views of possessions, money, food, time, education, destiny, family structure and even driving forces.
For example, the driving forces for those in poverty are survival, relationships and entertainment; whereas, for those in the middle class, the driving forces are work, achievement, and material security. For the wealthy, though, the driving forces are often improving social status and making connections.
Ministry through a poverty worldview, Pool said, is to understand their perspective; to acknowledge the difference is neither better or worse than our own worldview; and to move people from a poverty worldview to a biblical worldview.
"Your ministry," Pool reminded the ministry leaders, "is not to make them more like us, but to make them more like Jesus.
"You and I are called to make disciples of people, not middle-class citizens of them," he said. "There are some incredible disciples of Jesus Christ whose lives demonstrate the prayerfulness, … (who) have an unyielding faith in God and belief in His Word, and they've never made more than $5,000 a year.
"It doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank to be a disciple of Jesus Christ," he said.
Through benevolent ministry, church leaders should move beyond offering relief in crisis to providing discipleship training that improves lives by leading people to make decisions based on God's word, he advocated.
"The last thing we want to do is create dependency. That's when helping hurts," he concluded. Instead, he advised leading people to make "better decisions that directly affect the well-being of the one being helped."
Intentionally using a double-negative for emphasis, Pool challenged, "Whatever you do, you cannot not minister." (WR)