Opting for the Poor

I have options. You have options. We have freedom to live almost wherever we want. Again, these are the types of trends that economist Richard Florida has been pointing out for years. More and more people are simply deciding where they want to live before they determine what they are going to do to earn a paycheck. Alluring cities with the most urban amenities are on the receiving end of this boom. Livability means a lot. It can make or break a city. In many ways, a city’s future rests on its ability to capture and retain young creatives and new start-ups.

But should livability be the determining factor for where we plant new churches? What if we asked that question or applied our logic in the cities of the developing world? That means in places like Lima, Mexico City, Caracas, or Bogotá we would only see new churches planted among the affluent and the shantytowns would be neglected. Is that congruent with the Gospel?

In North America it seems most denominations and church planting organizations “strategically” target the middle-class and above. I am regularly on the websites of all of these entities focusing on planting churches in cities in North America. They seem to only highlight the cool, alluring, and hip parts of the city. It is as though the branding done by cities has been effective not only in attracting new industry, but also in swaying church planters.

Am I being harsh? Yes, but for a reason. Not as an emotional rant or tirade about the mechanisms of denominational life or that of church planting organizations, but to highlight the absurdities of our flawed logic at times in determining where to plant churches. In contrast, “Like a mother who tends most tenderly to the weakest and threatened of her children, so it is with God’s care for the poor. And the call of the Gospel is for us to do the same, to make the same option, to show that God’s love is universal by focusing our attention on the most threatened among us” (In the Company of the Poor, 29).

Livability cannot and should not be the overriding determining factor for where we plant new churches. If so, we run the risk of showing partiality. As the writer James says in the Bible:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:1-9).