I’m not a surfer. But I’ve secretly always wanted to be. While visiting Point Loma University, San Diego, CA, I was invited by students to try surfing. Early in the morning we donned on wetsuits, grabbed boards, and headed out to the surf.
What I didn’t expect: Riding the waves isn’t the only challenge. Before you stand on your board, you have to recognize the right wave. Being untrained, I spent my time scanning the horizon while my friends were carried away.
It’s also critical to recognize waves in culture. Paul encourages followers of Jesus in Rome to be watchful, “understanding the present time” (Romans 13:11). We are called to identify trends—to scan the social, economic, and political horizon—to thoughtfully engage those around us.
Otherwise we’ll miss the wave—and with it, our chance to shape and influence culture.
Below are some of the recent waves in how the Church has enthusiastically engaged our global needs.
WAVE 1: Eyes wide open (1995 – 2006)
A few years ago, I would ask a classroom of college students, “How many of you have served in the developing world?”
Only a few students would raise their hands. Today, almost all of them do. In 2006, over $1.6 billion was spent on short-term mission trips. In both the Christian and secular sphere, there has been an awakening to global needs.
The Church is returning to its roots in Acts: to love the poor and needy in their communities and around the world. We understand it’s part of our mandate to address physical and spiritual poverty as we combat human trafficking, provide water, and bring comfort to the hurting and lonely.
WAVE 2: When helping hurts (2006 – 2012)
The second wave has been the recognition that sometimes our passionate responses to the needs of the world have produced poor results. Two landmark books—Dead Aid (2006) and The White Man’s Burden (2009) —written by top economists Dambisa Moyo and William Easterly show good intentions aren’t enough. According to Moyo, over $1 trillion in aid has been spent on the continent of Africa, but many countries are actually worse off.
The knowledge that good intentions aren’t enough has permeated the Church as well. Two excellent books have recently helped change how we as a Church address social, political, and economic issues: Toxic Charity (Bob Lupton) and When Helping Hurts (Brian Fikkert, Steve Corbett).
This wave has opened us up to thoughtful engagement. Now more than ever, the Church is recognizing that misappropriated aid creates long-term dependency and as a result, is truly seeking solutions that work.
WAVE 3: Rise of social entrepreneurship and job creation (2012?)
If we just stop at wave #2 and recognize the challenge in helping, the overwhelming problems can seem discouraging. It can lead to inactivity.
We need to find solutions that truly work. And we know with clarity that the best way to overcome poverty is through job creation and entrepreneurship, not charity. In The Coming Jobs War, the CEO of Gallup, Jim Clifton, uses over 75 years of Gallup research to make the case that what the world needs now is simple: more quality jobs. The Church is beginning to awaken to the potential of missional entrepreneurship and the key role of business in poverty alleviation.
Faith-based think tank Acton Institute recently launched PovertyCure, an initiative supporting employment-based solutions. The Church is recognizing the way job creation affirms the dignity of those in poverty.
It’s thrilling to see how the Church is beginning to think creatively about using social entrepreneurship and transitioning from hand-outs to a much better way of addressing poverty.
What are the dangers?
In our excitement, we mustn’t lose sight that if poverty is about broken relationships, then all the money in the world can’t fix our problems. It’s only Christ who can restore relationships.
It’s an exciting time. The Church is celebrating the God-given talents and creativity of people in poverty, exploring business-based initiatives, and sharing the unmatched hope of Jesus Christ.
Let’s continue to realize the potential of this wave.
For more on this, see Five Ways the Poor Define Poverty.
See PovertyCure’s video here.