Ministry to and with the Poor

By David A. Busic

John Wesley’s emphasis on ministry to the poor is well-documented. However, it is important to stress that Wesley believed working with and among the poor is not merely an act of compassion; it is a necessary aspect of the spiritual formation of every Christian. Thus, Wesley maintained that living with the poor is a work of mercy and a work of piety.

Wesley believed the gospel was good news to the poor. He made a practice of visiting the poor as a spiritual discipline, and encouraged—indeed, insisted—that his Methodists do the same. Even as an elderly man, Wesley risked his own health and well-being in the cold of winter, trudging through ankle-deep snow, to go publicly begging for funds on behalf of the suffering. Theodore Jennings suggests “[E]very aspect of Methodism was subjected to the criterion, how will this benefit the poor?” However, as Jennings points out, it was more than concern for the comfort of the poor that motivated Wesley; it was vitally important to him because he saw no other way to understand or identify with the poor than to be among them. For that reason, Wesley believed it was far better “to carry relief to the poor, than to send it,” because of the spiritual impact that it would have on the one bringing the help.

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Thus, Wesley’s understanding of ministry to and with the marginalized poor, sick, and imprisoned was more than compassion; as a means of grace for the Christian, it is indispensable to Wesleyan spirituality. These acts of mercy become the ways by which God works to establish the character of holiness in God’s people and to give growth in grace toward the recovery of the divine image.

Emphasis on the poor as a means of grace began to wane after Wesley’s death and as American Methodism matured. The Methodists were no longer the newcomers or a marginalized sect. Methodists had become successful in business, banking, politics, education, etc. Methodist church buildings began to change to accommodate the newly acquired affluence. Pipe organs and stained glass windows were installed in Methodist sanctuaries, soon followed by the practice of pew rentals as a way to raise congregational funds to pay for elaborate facilities, which further segregated the more prestigious Methodist members from other church members. Even the teaching of the doctrine of entire sanctification began to diminish to make room for more progressive ethical concerns.

The changing atmosphere was noticed. Prominent Methodists began to speak out against the injustice. In an effort not to lose this vital connection with the poor, outspoken leaders like Phineas Bresee began to call for a recapturing of the original vision for the poor. Bresee left a distinguished ecclesiastical career to return to his passion of ministry to and with the poor. Nazarene church buildings and formal dress were intentionally less pretentious and more simplified so that the poor would feel welcome and comfortable. Bresee’s passion for the poor was felt so keenly that he wrote to the first Nazarenes, “The evidence of the presence of Jesus in our midst is that we bear the gospel, particularly to the poor.”

Compassionate acts that serve the poor and oppressed are an important part of engaging in Christ’s incarnational ministry and advancing the kingdom of God. Additionally, what God will accomplish in these interactions is a means of grace for every believer. Discipleship in Wesleyan-Holiness ecclesiology depends on the pursuit of Christlikeness and ministry to and with the marginalized. 

Next-Generation Faith

By David A. Busic

There has been a great deal of research and discussion about the impact of millennials (those reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century) on the church and the impact of the church on millennials. Much of the data tends to focus on the negative aspects of their demographic. However, in my frequent interaction with young Nazarene leaders — both pastors and laity — I am greatly encouraged by their love for the church and their commitment to the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition.
 
I have drawn several conclusions about ministry with and among millennials.
 
First, conducting church “business as usual” will not reach them. In 2016, 23 percent of organized Nazarene churches reported having no youth in their congregation. Let that sink in … 5,207 Nazarene churches did not have one single young person ages 12-29. Additionally, recent research reflecting all Protestant churches in the USA reports that 50 percent of the students in our youth ministries will walk away from the church after leaving high school. Of greater Kingdom concern, many of these young adults will also discard their faith in Christ.

It is important to ask: Why are these young people leaving?

Sobering trends demand that we prayerfully reconsider “business as usual.” This is not the time to play it safe. The stakes have never been higher and the opportunities have never been greater.
 
Second, and on the positive side, studies show that 94 percent of Christians came to faith in Christ between the ages of 4-30 (85 percent between the ages of 4-14). Furthermore, even though half of young adults are leaving the church after high school, half are also staying. Just as the church must ask why some are leaving, it is essential to discover why the other half is staying and find ways to replicate those reasons in our local contexts. How are young adults finding identity, belonging, and purpose in our congregations that makes them want to be a part of us?
 
Those who are willing to stay have hopes and dreams for the church. I discovered this in a series of focus groups with millennials conducted in the last 12 months. I learned they want to be part of a church that is authentic, honest, incarnational, difference-making, and most of all, Christ-centered. The questions they are asking of the church are simple, yet profound:

  1. Are you (the church) asking the right questions? Do you know the deepest problems facing the world right now, and are you willing to face these problems head-on?
  2. Are you being honest about the shortcomings of the church? Are you willing to do the hard work of changing to be relevant in the future for the glory of God?
  3. Do you want me?
  4. Do you need me?

Millennials will undoubtedly do things differently than their predecessors. They are not motivated by the same things as previous generations. They are not inspired by maintaining institutions. But they will give their lives for a movement of God that wants their help.