by Kent Dueck, Executive Director, ICYA
Mr. Burns in ‘The Simpsons’ typifies the way many people see the wealthy. They are viewed as a dirty bunch — those corporate stiffs that sit stoically in their padded seats. They are seen as expansionists without regard for human kind — just me and mine is all they know. Stereotypes play a very destructive role in the world. Harold Evans says that attempting to get at truth means rejecting stereotypes and cliches.
Stereotype… the rich often feel it. This has become a personal epiphany for me in the last 25 years as I have sat with some of Manitoba’s wealthier people to talk about their role in our ministry. During that time I have become friends with these people and have gotten close enough to them to hear their real thoughts concerning their money. I have witnessed their noble ideals about making a difference in the world with what God has given them and how they have clung to those ideals in whatever business ventures they have pursued.
Often their personalities are different from those of people in ministry. They worry about spreadsheets, markets, performance measurements and production quotas. While they are doing that, we ministry people worry about noble things like souls and spirit-directed causes that are beyond us. I suspect that some ministry leaders wish they could be a little more vocal or “prophetic” about the wealthy around them, but that could come back to bite them. It hints at the fact that sometimes those of great means get relegated to the side until we need them.
A good business friend put it to me like this: “Our pastors want us to sit at the back of the church. They don’t want our opinions on strategic directions in the church, but when it comes time to do a building project they suddenly want to do coffee.” That sort of sums it up.
Whether that is the case in all churches or ministries is not the point. The point is that it is true in enough ministries and churches that it warrants being said. One thing is certain. You won’t hear many of the wealthy push that point. Not one of our donors would allow me to quote them when I talked about the topic. But they certainly had opinions. One donor told me that there was no need to thank him for a very large donation. He said, ” should be thanking you for doing your work. It’s an honor to be able to support it financially.” Another donor and friend put it this way… “If there were social castes in the church, the business person would be the Dalit.”
In no way was this individual seeking to diminish the plight of the Dalit. In fact he has invested a lot of money in liberating people under that kind of oppression all over the world. What he was saying is, that somehow the church has made him feel dirty about what he does — dirty only until they need his money.
So the can of worms is open — now what? If you have read our publications you know that we want to stir up people’s thinking and move them to action. In the Bible every announcement of the kingdom is followed by an outreach to the poor. The poor and oppressed are central to God’s heart. God has chosen Christ followers to be his ambassadors to the poor. God sent His Son from heaven to reveal the flesh of his heart for the oppressed among us. After Christ ascended to heaven to return to His father he left us to carry on this work of bringing good news to the poor.
Joyce Rees, former executive director of ‘Jacob’s Well’, puts it like this…. “The big question emerges: If caring for the poor is central to God’s heart, where does that leave the wealthy?” Her answer: “Bring the rich along on the journey.”
We have to make a radical departure in our thinking about the role of the wealthy in ministry. We need to recognize that God calls all of us alike to this work. Although the money of the wealthy is needed for the work, we need to recognize that their gifts, personalities and hearts are just as important. In order to minister to the poor we desperately need everything the wealthy have to offer. They too are created in God’s image and have the call to care as fully as those who walk among the poor and oppressed. Together we are strong!