“Feeding the Poor” is the new “Going to Church”

Lately I was shown a status update on someone’s Facebook that said “Just got back from feeding the poor, feeling great, I was created for this.”

I am positive, that if I was following the feeds of the youth kids coming back from a youth night, their updates would have read something like “Just got back from worshiping at youth group, feeling great, I was created for this.”

I can’t help but think that maybe,” feeding the poor” has become to the new “going to church.”  For some reason, the motivation feels all wrong still.  My problems with the weekly gathering as a pump up service that leaves me feeling extra excited about things I already believe are plentiful.  I think I would have the same problems if churches replaces the Sunday service with serving at a soup kitchen.  There is still very much a lack of sacrifice, challenge, reality and meaning that goes with a ritual like this that does nothing more than boost up the attenders self esteem.

If you search through the stories where we are told to give to or feed the poor, in almost every single case it is prefaced with selling all your possessions and giving the money to the poor.  Somehow we replaced this idea with giving the poor our extras and a few hours a week.  Simply giving the poor your monday morning to hand them food that you may or may not have purchased is missing the entire point of “serving the poor.”  There is an obvious call to equality in commands that say to sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.  If you were to actually do this, you would become poor.  The point isn’t to help the poor nearly as much as it is to subvert the system so that you are no longer in a position to help the poor.  The command, when actually followed, leaves everyone in the same boat; poor.

Go to church, feed the poor on your day off, tithe your 10%…these are all healthy disciplines, but they all point to a reality that exists in the Kingdom of God.  The point is never to treat these things as the end goal but as disciplines so we can better identify with Jesus’ life.

10 Comments

  • How poor?

    For example, in the last year I sold my $200,000 house in a brand new subdivision and bought one for $115,000 in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town.

    I did this because I willingly quit my well-paying, secure factory job to take an insecure, low-paying job as a pastor.

    Am I poor enough yet?

  • I don’t know if being “poor enough” is really the language I would use. I do think however, the moves we make to move into poor neighborhoods, serve at soup kitchens etc. are moves in the right direction. I am not in a place in my own life to tell anyone that what they are doing isn’t good enough, but my guess is that as we all choose paths heading downward that we will continue to find more things that we are willing to give up or share because it will become more natural, as opposed to heading in the other direction where we get bigger houses, and get more things, and share less. All we can do is encourage each other to move in the right direction.

  • I expect you are right when you say: “as we all choose paths heading downward that we will continue to find more things that we are willing to give up or share because it will become more natural.” I’d say that is gradually happening in my own life.

    But to play ‘Devil’s advocate’, for a moment: I’m not sure about your statement: “There is still very much a lack of sacrifice, challenge, reality and meaning that goes with a ritual like this that does nothing more than boost up the attenders self esteem.” I think it would depend on the personal, heart involvement in what is going on (much the same as a typical ‘worship’ service) in that if the person is only doing it because everyone else is, they are pretty much missing the point. I think the opposite could be just as well be true–it can very much involve sacrifice, challenge, reality and meaning. And to the hungry guy on the street, food is appreciated, whether the attitude of the giver is pure or not.

    As a bit of an aside, I know there are churches who will only perform some kind of ‘good deeds’ if they can see an opportunity to preach connected with the event, but I don’t think that is the Jesus way.

    I think fighting for justice, affirming all people (Jew/gentile, male/female/other, rich/poor, black/white, gay/straight, etc.), or assisting those less fortunate (feeding the poor, healing the sick, etc.) are all ways that we can identify with Jesus. They are all part of helping bring the kingdom, so they are all appropriate lifestyle actions. Identifying with Jesus’ life only happens when we start working with Him in bringing the kingdom. That is what we were created for, so I think that facebook status could well be completely on the money.

    In taking a quick glance at the 4 Gospel references to ‘sell’ related to selling and giving (I found 6 references to sell in total), 3 are the same story in different gospels, and the fourth is part of ‘where your treasure is…’. I think all of these settings are a warning that we must not trust in our own accumulated wealth in order to have eternal life. If our faith is in what we have done, then it would be better for us to get rid of everything and give the proceeds to people in need.

    I think Jesus’ invitation to join in bringing the kingdom involves all aspects of justice, mercy, compassion, equality, etc. The concept of selling everything is just an extreme solution to help someone who finds it difficult to trust God for his daily bread. Maybe Jesus is trying to make everyone equal financially, but I don’t see it quite that way.

    This was a though-provoking post. Thanks!

  • Understood… I’m not really looking for your thumbs up or down, just wondering about degrees.

    “My guess is that as we all choose paths heading downward that we will continue to find more things that we are willing to give up or share because it will become more natural, as opposed to heading in the other direction where we get bigger houses, and get more things, and share less.”

    You are dead on with this. After having made the above sacrifices in the last year, we are already considering what we can sacrifice next. Its totally upside-down, and I love it.

  • I love calling this my strategy for “downward mobility”.

  • Yes, exactly!

    “The way of the [Christian] is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much but the way of downward mobility ending at the cross. This might sound morbid and masochistic, but for those who have heard the voice of the first love and said yes to it, the downward-moving way of Jesus is the way to the joy and the peace of God, a joy and peace that is not of this world.”
    (Henri Nouwen)

    One of my favourite quotes.

  • Great post, Nathan.

    I think an important distinction needs to be made between what it means to ‘go to’ church and what it means to BE the church. So, to make a move from simply going to church to engaging in something like feeding the poor must be seen as somewhat positive, no? The more that we do something, the more it becomes who we are – those who wish to follow Jesus must takes steps to put into practice his teachings and example, and this involves going places and doing things that do not come naturally to us as people shaped by the ways of the world around us. Even if it begins as a once a week or month thing, those first steps from the old to the new have to be taken at some point, and by doing so, we will find God more and more in these places and have our eyes opened to the reality of his kingdom come. Obviously there are issues with intentions and announcing what we are doing, but by practicing generosity, hospitality, friendship etc. over and over, these things begin to come naturally and not a big deal.

    As with all practices and disciplines, it takes time for them to become a regular part of who we are, and we need to be gracious to ourselves and to others when we don’t quite get it, which is often. I think we are meant to begin by taking deliberate steps of self-denying obedience each and every day so that the command to love God and neighbour can be obeyed at any given time. It is from this position that one begins to hear the words of Jesus spoken today, calling them to a deep and personal understanding of what it means to follow him. Over time, the ties that bind us to the ways of the world will loosen, freeing us to resist systems and structures that cause or perpetuate injustice and leading us further down the way of Jesus.

  • Interesting, about a week or so I was talking to a friend who has been living on the streets on and off for the past 15 years. He made a comment calling a lot of churches “poverty pimps.” I must say it did catch me a bit off guard, the old defense mechanisms went up. But the more I heard him talk, and the more eh revealed some off the comments churches were making. There was some truth in what he was saying. It was really pumping some church egos, and in a sense it made them feel good…that was the goal. Much like your worship analogy.He even went as far to say they do enough to achieve the good feeling, but to eradicate poverty…what then. As far as the church challenging political and social structures of injustice…he felt there was no voice. The reality of feeding the poor…is the whole challenge of the Kingdom, not just soup and sandwiches.

  • About your comment: “The command, when actually followed, leaves everyone in the same boat; poor.”

    I don’t think this is the point. You see, when everyone gives freely, everyone receives. To borrow a quote, “God created a world of enough, man created poverty.”

  • I guess the good thing about your Facebook friend is that at least some of these youth groups and churches are getting involved in inner city projects and shelters. The Facebook comment in ways sounds very naive, but it also may be coming from a real purity of heart; that person, wherever they’re on in their journey may be experiencing something of God’s compassion or calling to reach out.

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