Many people want to fix the problem of poverty. Very few are successful. Why do so many poverty alleviation strategies fail?
Before we can answer this question, we first must understand what poverty is. Poverty is defined as a deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients. When we dig into the root problem of poverty, we discover that the ingredients impoverished people lack are right relationships.
Here’s what I mean: In the book When Helping Hurts, authors Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett reintroduce us to the idea that God created us for four foundational relationships:
- Our relationship with God
- Our relationship with ourselves
- Our relationship with each other
- Our relationship with the material world
We were created for these relationships in order to work the earth together and make it flourish for His glory. This is the Cultural Mandate found in Genesis 1:26:
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
In the beginning, all four of these relationships were good, perfect and exactly the way God designed them. We had everything we needed to make the earth flourish.
However, when sin entered through Adam and Eve, all of these relationships were broken. We became deficient in the necessary ingredients required to make the earth (and humanity) flourish.
Let’s get back to the original question: Why do so many poverty alleviation strategies fail?
So many of our poverty alleviation strategies fail because we reduce poverty to a deficiency of material things (relationship #4) — completely ignoring the other three deficiencies. As a result, we focus all of our efforts on trying to fix all the “poor people” who lack material resources. And we fail to realize that we all are broken, are in poverty and need to be reconciled in our relationships.
So many poverty alleviation strategies fail because we reduce poverty to a deficiency of material things.
How then can we begin to alleviate poverty? The only way for poverty to be alleviated in our world is through work, work that echoes the beginning in the Garden where we were in right relationship with God, ourselves, each other and the material world. This is why the true responsibility for poverty alleviation belongs to the Church, the Bride of Christ:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… (2 Corinthians 5:18)
We are to be about the work of Jesus, who is reconciling all things — all aspects of the four foundational relationships — so that the earth will flourish.
Thankfully, many Christians are catching this vision. Jobs for Life, the ministry I have the pleasure of serving, is equipping the church to alleviate poverty through a Christ-centered jobs readiness discipleship curriculum and platform that restores relationships and prepares people to work the earth and make it flourish.
We encourage churches and nonprofit leaders to engage in one-on-one mentorship so we can begin to develop identity, character and community — and ultimately, so that lives and communities will be transformed. We’re only one ministry, but by addressing these four relationships, we’ve been able to see lives transformed.
Yes, many poverty alleviation strategies do fail. But by better understanding the problem, we can craft better solutions.
This article originally published on January 6, 2016.