The late Prentice Meador, one of my mentors, used to say the church was least equipped to minister to the rich and the poor. By this, I believe he meant churches don’t really know what to do with either group. His statement certainly matches my experience. Church programs, ministries, staff, are built for the middle-class. I don’t know this is a bad thing in and of itself. It’s just that it doesn’t match fully the ministry of Jesus–whose recorded encounters and teachings tended to focus on the extremes of the economic spectrum.
Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus certainly cares about the middle-class too. In fact, I’m not one who believes today’s misguided attempts to assign socio-economic value to people (i.e., Jesus loves the poor more) hold up under the light of Scripture. I think we tend to either make far too little or far too much of money and it’s relationship to one’s walk with God.
But I digress…
Churches struggle to serve the poor because the poor can be difficult to serve. They sometimes act weird, smell funny, and make the place feel unsafe. Their existence can make even middle-class people feel guilty for having too much. Few church leaders are themselves poor, so understanding how to reach the poor is somewhat of a cross-cultural experience. The poor typically don’t give, won’t be able to serve the church much, and make those the church would prefer to reach feel uncomfortable.
On the other hand, we have the rich. While many churches would love to have some of them around, many churches have no earthly idea how to minister to someone who has been blessed by God with wealth. The best some of us can do is make them feel guilty for such, and tell them to give it to the church. We ask much of them, but offer them little in the way of spiritual care. There is no room for Zacchaeus in some of our churches. The deeper needs of those blessed with wealth are both substantial and complicated. The fact that people readily accuse church leaders of favoritism for time spent with wealthy people exacerbates the situation. For the same reason, churches never thank donors, and in fact are quick to accuse them of trying to manipulate the church when they voice concerns or offer suggestions.
Here’s what I’m saying: Churches are set up for the middle-class in part because it’s much less complicated. To be fair, most people in our communities are a part of the middle-class. The poor and rich make up very small part of the population (depending on how we define rich and poor). I don’t think Nevertheless, we make a mistake when we ignore those who were drawn to Jesus. Who were they? Everyone–they were part of the 100%. They were rich and lost, poor and lost, and every-in-between-lost.
We live in a time of extreme class warfare, where the alleged “99%” claim moral high ground to the “1%” simply because they make less money–and the rich seem to only be able to respond with “get a job.” Perhaps the church is able to build a bridge over troubled waters in these times by embodying the Kingdom of the one who both touched lepers and embraced Zacchaeus. We need to remember what a person makes is less important to Jesus than whether they follow Him. Then the question becomes, “If I follow Jesus, what does the Gospel demand of my finances?”