This study by Alan Devar, is the perfect companion for the Practical Theologian, Mission Focused Pastor, leaders and congregants. Learn about the concept of missional-Diakonia


A Practical Response By The Church To The Poor - Section 1 to 6 [Audio Version Part 1]

A Practical Response By The Church To The Poor - Section 7 to 12 [Audio Version Part 2]


1. Abstract

This work reflects my profound conviction to shift congregations from a conventional comforts-based paradigm to understand God’s orientation to the poor. Secondly, to embrace God’s call to go beyond the hand-out phase of soup kitchens and winter blankets by being present with the destitute in their immediate vicinity, especially the adjacent informal settlements.

The focus initially is to convey to the clergy and leadership the biblical concept of missional-Diakonia, what it means to be called and sent to serve (John 20:21), to understand better the plight of the poor and the attendant social dynamics, then to offer a practical-theological approach to engage with and address problematic situations.

To expose readers to pertinent works of Christian researchers, economists, theologians, and proven workings of practical theology in diverse fields empowered, guided and led by God the Holy Spirit.

My fervent prayer and hope are that pastors, leaders and congregants will become missional in their thinking, shift from comforts and indifference to become missional churches, working tenaciously to reverse the wretchedness of poverty, in so doing lead many to Christ.

This topic has profound relevance for my theology and ministry. In 2015, I started a ministry amongst the desperately poor in Olievenhoutbosch, teaching the unemployed and impoverished how to start small businesses for generating income to sustain their livelihoods. In 2016 and 2017, I focused on teaching unemployable men, especially gardeners, the art of refurbishing and painting homes that, in the winter months, they may well find income-producing work.

Now retired from the corporate world, I hope to focus on this diaconal ministry, substantially increasing range and reach. Naturally, if confined to a single person, the scope of this ministry will be severely limited. Therefore, by God’s grace, I envisage devolving this passion for the poor, alienated and marginalised using Osmer’s work (Osmer: 2008) as a basis for practical theology. This ministry’s logical and crucial extension conveys that we are a missional people and offered a brilliant opportunity to work ‘with God in God’s world’. (Hancke 2012:2) (Mark 16:20).

Breed (2014:6) endorses this critical point, Diakonia is a service to others; poor and marginalised, oppressed, excluded and alienated. More importantly, it is primarily a service to God. From the perspective of Christian Diakonia, the congregation must grasp opportunities to engage in this dimension of the church’s ministry to make a transformational difference in the lives of the impoverished and alienated. The priority for achieving this ambition must, of necessity, start with making the pastor a “practical theologian”. (Osmer: 2008) After which, to find ways to conceptualise and implement practical theology lessons. Dr McCrystal documents an exceptional work in this regard (2005:88-108).

Two relevant scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments underpin this work. First, Amos’ prophesy against God’s people, Israel, whose prosperity became a serious obstacle. A timely warning to awaken the modern church! Has the church drifted like Israel from God? Is she callous against the poor, tightfisted toward the oppressed and downtrodden? Second, Diakonia is the pathway of return to true worship. True worship is to recognise one’s neighbour and respond in love to their needs in obedience to Jesus’ words, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b).

Finally, there must be recognition that working with the poor and needy to seek out and provide sustainable solutions will not just happen. Pastors must first receive training to understand the concept of practical theology, devolving the practice to leaders and congregants.

The American Psychological Association defines poverty as a situation where people’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter are inadequate. At a high level, poverty separates into two basic categories. First, a state of absolute poverty is equivalent to deprivation, which occurs when people lack sufficient means to maintain the least possible level of physical well-being. Second, relative poverty comes about when people cannot meet an acceptable minimum living standard as defined by governments or as experienced by the more significant part of the populace. Minimum living standard measures (LSM’s) vary from country to country and may often vary within the same country. [American Psychological Association (APA): poverty. BusinessDictionary.com. Retrieved\January 16, 2017, from BusinessDictionary.com website: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/poverty.html].

The World Bank offers a much simpler definition: “Poverty is hunger. Poverty is a lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not having access to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty means not having a job, and fear for the future, living one day at a time.

Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, often called by many different names. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action! — for the poor and the wealthy alike. A call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their communities.” [Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation, Government of New Brunswick, http://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/ departments/esic/overview/content/what_is_poverty.html].

This “call to action” I prayerfully hope, will penetrate and arouse the church’s conscience. Anything less would equate to the danger of complacency, equivalent to “passing by on the other side”, as did the priest and the Levite (Luke 10:31b, 32b) in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

On attaining democracy in 1994, South Africa, has made considerable enhancements to poverty alleviation to the extent that some seventeen million people receive state grants (SASSA Jan. 2017). This initiative is inclusive of old age, disability and child assistance grants. Notwithstanding this attempt, poverty continues to grow without any noticeable solution in sight. There are ever-increasing numbers of informal settlements mushrooming around every huge metropolis and alongside most suburbs where the destitute perceive some degree of affluence.

Johannesburg has always been susceptible to the migration of the poor since the discovery of gold on the reef. Lately, the mismanagement of provincial economies, especially in the Eastern Cape, Free State and Limpopo, has led many people to migrate to the Western Cape and Gauteng. This urbanisation continues, compounded by the migration of millions of African peoples from the extreme north of the continent, especially Zimbabwe and Mozambique, adjacent to our borders. Pakistanis and Somalis have somehow infiltrated townships and informal settlements to take control of the ‘spaza’ shop industry. Thousands now beg at street intersections or wait every morning at the roadsides hoping that someone will fetch them for everyday work.

However, what is clear is that many of South Africa’s indigenous people are unemployed or unemployable and languish in the townships. One can encounter hundreds of young men and women loitering aimlessly in the townships on any particular day. Recently it has become common to find people of the white race group begging at traffic intersections. Thousands of white people have now dropped out of society to live communally in informal settlements.

From a Christian or Church standpoint, many of the hypothesised causes of poverty are, in fact, symptoms. Here again, the church should understand that it cannot adequately address the phenomenon of poverty if it does not work together with God. Anything else would be tantamount to philanthropic or humanistic initiatives (Hancke 2012:7).

Some causes presented by analyst James Downes (2012:1-4) are relevant to the unstoppable cycle of poverty in targeted regions.

  • Political Regime and Dictatorships (or quasi-dictatorships)
  • Western Countries and the Global Order (perhaps disorder)
  • Physical Geography and Disease

These broad categories extend into many sub-categories viz. unbridled capitalism, unfair trading practices, manipulation of currency exchange rates, unemployment, exploitation, corruption, tribalism, discrimination, lack of quality education, and lack of social services (housing, health, water and energy). Food insecurity, uncontrollable levels of crime, drugs and alcohol, and corrupt and inferior governance borne out of self-interest of the political elite further exacerbate the misery of the poor.

Briefly, to understand the underlying cause of poverty, the Christian must, with conviction, go to the heart of Amos’ prophecy in the first elucidation below. Readers will note, “society does not depend on independent mechanical principles – market forces, money supply, Gross National Product – for its prosperity. Prosperity comes from divine blessing, and no matter how efficient the economy, it cannot prosper if it is under God’s curse” (Motyer 1994:792).

Frans J. van H. Hancke, Research Fellow in the Department of Missiology at the University of the Free State, posits a profound belief. He states the answer to the distresses of people living in poverty and suffering within pandemics such as HIV/AIDS “lies within the body of Christ”. God calls his people, therefore, to actively participate in mission (Missio Dei) in line with God’s purpose in the world (Hancke 2012:2 Acta theol., Bloemfontein, v. 32, supl. 16, p. 89-105, Jan. 2012.<http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1015-87582012000300007 &lng=en&nrm=iso>. access on 08 Mar. 2017)

Hancke suggests that mission is a fundamental characteristic of God’s people. Using John Scott’s definition of mission, David Bosch (1979:248) explains, “although the task of the church is salvation of the world as a goal, its implementation however, draws the church out of its limited existence, to transcend boundaries geographical, social, political, ethnic, cultural, religious and ideological.” (Bosch 1987:11 in Hancke 2012:2). This crossing of boundaries often necessitates functioning out of one’s comfort zone, consequently incurring some degree of discomfort.

Hancke reminds us of Jesus’ words: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John  20:21) to suffering and afflicted people (Luke 4:18, 19). It is not so much about understanding poverty per se but rather about “God’s orientation to poverty” (Hancke 2012:3). He further clarifies, “Interpreting the Bible and the missiological implications that go with it, requires us to imagine that for generation after generation, century after century, the God of the Bible was passionately concerned about social issues, political arrogance and abuse, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed.” So passionate indeed that the laws he gave and the prophets he sent give more space to these matters than any other issue except idolatry. The Psalmists also cry out in protest to the God they know cares deeply about such things” (Wright 2006:280 in Hancke 2012:3).

In the context of God’s orientation to the poor, Fernando Gros suggests, “addressing poverty means going beyond the hand-out, the soup kitchen, and the extra blanket – journeying with people as they build or rebuild their lives” (Gros 2007 in Hancke 2012:4).

Hancke alludes to the church working with the poor and destitute to seek out and provide sustainable solutions. (Proverbs 1:1-7) Perhaps going the extra mile by acting as life coaches reminiscent of Christ making people whole (Matthew 15:28; John 5:6, 14a. KJV) and then teaching them how to live godly lives (John 5:14b KJV).

Ignatius Swart of the Research Institute for Theology and Religion, University of South Africa, makes exciting observations regarding the worsening service delivery crises in South Africa and its long term negative impacts on the poor and marginalised. [HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 69(2), art. #1996, 16 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/hts.v69i2.1996 3 Mar. 2017]

Swart (2013:3) points to social commentators who increasingly note the widespread anger and protestations amongst poor black communities in our country hark back to the outrage under apartheid’s horrific rule. [Davids 2012a, 2012b; Patel 2012; Saunderson-Meyer 2012 in Swart 2013:3]. Poverty-stricken communities in increasing numbers across the national spectrum are protesting ever more frequently and aggressively against atrocious living conditions. The local government’s failure since its inception in 1994 to deliver on its promises appears to aggravate grossly the mood of communities.

In 2012 sociologist Peter Alexander likened these protests to ‘a massive rebellion of the poor’ (Alexander 2012:34 in Swart 2013) – raising serious concerns about the state of our democracy, an economy in perpetual decline and the ruling party’s inability to rectify or reverse the situation.

According to a recent analysis by Paul Holden, protests often escalate into violent clashes with the police, with flaming tyres barricading entrances into villages, and arson attacks on local councilor’s homes, as well as facilities such as libraries, civic halls and clinics. Police responses to such unrest have been devastatingly brutal, similar in intensity to the apartheid oppression. This ruthless police response has led to numerous injuries and deaths. A case in point is the death of Andries Tatane, a 33-year-old from Ficksburg, beaten to death by a group of police officers, in April 2011, for demanding the restoration of the community’s water supply. This high-handed response evidences a violent state, essentially unchanged by the liberation of 1994. [Holden 2012:332–333 in Swart 2013].

Swart is mindful that poverty ailments stem from underlying forces in society outside the ambit of the Christian Church. He is, however, concerned with the glaring absence of any practical, theological endeavour to seriously engage with and challenge the problem of endemic poverty.

Swart citing Osmer, suggests the church should ask, “What ought to be going on?” “How might the Christian church or faith community respond?” (Osmer 2008:4 in Swart 2013).

Swart makes his challenge through Christian Diakonia in terms of which the church must recognise and seize opportunities to participate in this critical life-changing ministry, finding scriptural ways to arrest and reverse the distress of proliferating poverty.

Gert Breed of the Department of Practical Theology, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa, investigates the role that Practical Theology can play in addressing alienation amongst the people of South Africa. Breed conducts his work in the context of the scriptural theory of Diakonia (or Christian Service Work), which examines practical theology as outlined by Peter’s first letter. [Breed, G., 2014, ‘The Diakonia of Practical Theology to the alienated in South Africa in the light of 1 Peter’, Verbum et Ecclesia 35(1), art. #847, 9 pages. http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/ve.v35i1.847]

Breed impresses upon the church to know the following:

  • “The reasons why people in South Africa experience alienation.”
  • “What insight can be gleaned from Peter’s letter into the Diakonia of practical theology to such people.” [Breed 2014:3]

The alienation of South African peoples remains currently segmented by race, gender, culture, socio-economic circumstances, trauma and religion, country of origin, language, training, and academic qualifications [Breed 2014:3]. Breed quotes some examples, which will help elucidate the subject:

The promulgation of the affirmative action policy gives rise to exclusion, engendering alienation amongst the white population group [Goldin 2002; Griffiths 2007; Marchetti-Mercer 2012 in Breed 2014:4].

The Indian and Coloured population groups may regard affirmation action as discriminatory. It excludes them from many opportunities because they are not black enough [Chiloane-Tsoka 2012; Ponte, Roberts & Van Sittert 2007 in Breed 2014:4].

Today, many Black people experience alienation as a direct function of the states’ failure to deliver on expectations promised in 1994 to the broad population base [Chiloane-Tsoka 2012; Ponte, Roberts & Van Sittert 2007 Breed 2014:4].

Beneficiaries of the land reform program, mainly black aspirants, unsuccessful in farming initiatives are now considered failures and hence alienated [Moobi & Oladele 2012 in Breed 2014:4].

Many inexperienced or unqualified candidates deployed in leadership positions have failed dismally, delaying the promise of a better life, especially for the poor. The media, fellow workers and their communities now view them with scorn and derision. [Akinboade, Kinfack & Mokwena 2012; Koelblea & LiPumab 2010 in Breed 2014:4].

Like the sword of Damocles, the continued threat of xenophobia hangs over tens of thousands of fellow Africans who enter the country every day to seek employment prospects [Jeffrey 2010; Ilo 2009 in Breed 2014:4].

Breed explains, “Diakonia then is a Christian service to others, poor and marginalised, oppressed, excluded and alienated but more importantly, it is primarily a service to God. Jesus performed his Diakonia as messenger of his Father”. The message he spoke and the work he did align perfectly with the Father’s will and purpose. [John 5:36; 14:10b, 24]. He did nothing out of his own volition. His core group was continually involved in his work to perpetuate his Diakonia through people empowered by God the Holy Spirit after he had ascended to Heaven. [Matthew 28:19, 20a; Acts 1:8] [Breed 2014:6]

Importantly the church makes its theology practical when it works with Christian and other organisations, e.g. NGO’s, to probe and determine the causes of alienation and poverty. These research results should constitute the basis for implementing feasible solutions. Experience often teaches that these learnings should be frequently re-appraised to continuously improve and excel in the church’s ministry of love. Of course, practical theology cannot be anthropocentric; it must be Christocentric, guided by God the Holy Spirit (Breed 2014:16).

In his work on Practical Theology, Richard Osmer’s principal purpose is to prepare church leaders to participate in the practical theological understanding of events, conditions, and contexts that challenge their ministry. A secondary objective is to train spiritual instructors who in turn will mentor students and congregants in the art of practical theological contemplation. [Osmer 2008 reviewed by Kevin G. Smith, SATS, in www.sat.edu.za]

Osmer [2008:4] suggests a four-step model for the analysis and interpretation of practical theology:

  1. The descriptive-empirical task asks, ‘What is going on?’
  2. The interpretive task asks, ‘Why is it going on?’
  3. The normative task asks, ‘What ought to be going on?’
  4. The pragmatic task asks, ‘How might the church respond?’

Osmer places these four tasks within a congregation’s leadership framework to teach and coach practical Christian theology. Although valuable for academics, Osmer’s work is intended principally for congregation leaders, structured to equip them to be active revelatory mentors for their membership by mentoring them on how to take part in practical theological inquiry in their respective environments [Osmer 2008:83].

The table below formats Osmer’s model:

(Fig. 1 Osmer 2008)

Osmer's Model


Although the four tasks are distinct, they are also intrinsically interrelated. The interpreter must constantly interact between functions, which leads to an interpretive spiral, depicted in fig.2 below:

(Fig. 2 Osmer 2008)

Osmer's Model

Further detailed discussion will naturally take readers beyond the scope of this paper, so I would like to limit discussion briefly to each function in figure 1 in the context of mission to the poor.

  1. What is going on? – Priestly listening

Osmer positions this descriptive task in terms of ‘a spirituality of presence’ [2008:33‑34]. ‘It is a matter of physically going out and being on-site to see and experience what is going on in the lives of people, whether individuals, families or communities [2008:34]. He refers to such attending as priestly listening. In a congregational setting, pastoral listening can be casual or formally structured.

  1. Why is it going on? – Sagely wisdom

For Osmer, the interpretive leader must identify the issues embedded within the observed circumstances, conditions, and environments and draw on concepts from other academic disciplines to help him clearly understand the situation. Sagely wisdom requires the capacity to interpret cases and events interchanged between three key elements: contemplation, understanding, and judiciousness to shape effective solutions [Osmer 2008:84]. Of course, it goes without saying that as covenant people, both mentor and protégé must count on the over-arching wisdom of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit [Osmer 2008:98].

  1. What ought to be going on? – Prophetic discernment

The term ‘prophetic discernment’ encapsulates the chemistry of divine revelation and human modelling as predictive intelligence. ‘The prophetic office is the discernment of God’s Word to the covenant people in a particular time and place’ [2008:133]. ‘Prophetic discernment involves both divine disclosure and the human shaping of God’s word’ [2008:134-135]. Jesus is the perfect example [Acts 10:38] and the passing down of these gifts to the Church by God the Holy Spirit [John 14:16].

  1. How might we respond? – Servant leadership

Osmer investigates several facets of leadership and concludes that the overall task, whether pastor or congregant, is servant leadership. His model is a simple, helpful tool in practical theology, which, even without formal teaching, when applied appropriately, church leaders will find the questions of immense benefit [Osmer 2008:4].

Von van der Linde established the Africa Co-operative Action Trust [ACAT] in 1980. Von left an executive position in the corporate world to follow his heart, a divine calling, to establish a trust dedicated to helping the rural poor in KwaZulu-Natal together with other Christians.

Twenty-five years later, Dr Lawrence McCrystal [McCrystal:2005], an economist, an outstanding Christian witness of many decades and a founding member of ACAT, recounts how God faithfully provided the vision, workers, and resources needed to reach neglected and impoverished communities. ACAT, now successfully operating for forty years, has replicated the model with success in many countries. I have purposefully alluded to Prof. McCrystal’s work, as it presents a proven lesson in ‘practical theological application.’ ACAT presents Diakonia at its best!

In his book, McCrystal documents how God provided the means to bring together the ACAT vision by bringing together professional people, farmers, researchers, tribal authorities, academic and practical agriculturalists from Natal University, Cedara Agricultural College, and government departments [2005:11].

ACAT coined the slogan “Food, Faith and Work for Africa” [2005:39]. In ACAT’s research, nearly all projects in Africa run for people risked a high probability of failure. ACAT trustees, therefore, established a fundamental principle “Do things with people and not for them” [2005: 39].

The second principle acknowledges that rural people in Africa are community-oriented, so ACAT resolved to work with people in groups [2005:40]. Thirdly, the emphasis was to be one of alleviating poverty before bringing the Gospel to people. People were more likely to take to the Gospel on full stomachs [2005:40]. Fourthly, stay away from hand-outs that create dependencies [2005:40]. The fifth principle was to promote savings, primarily by teaching people how to avoid unnecessary expenditures, e.g. spending enormous sums on funerals where cows, goats and sheep are slaughtered in honour of the dead [2005:41].

With the help of ACAT staff, Savings Clubs were established, with meticulous record keeping. Absolute integrity had to be maintained in all actions and transactions [2005:43], especially as these developments were subject to prior approval of the tribal authorities, and more especially for the integrity of the Gospel. At the peak of the initiative, some two thousand savings clubs had forty thousand members, supporting some two hundred and fifty thousand people.

As the savings grew, people were taught to prepare lands for planting, manufacture fences, garments and handicrafts, candles, taught the art of planting, pest control, adult basic education, management and development of water infrastructure [2005:53-59].

Over forty years, thousands, including pastors of churches, have accepted Christ as Lord. Saved and unsaved alike can attest to improved living conditions, enough to eat and a surplus to sell, growing savings, and the means to educate children, affirming again what a Godly lifestyle can achieve.

Scripture: Amos Chapter 1 – 5

This analysis will attempt to explore the times of Amos, Israel and Judah and the surrounding pagan nations, the luxury in which the wealthy lived, and their unfair treatment of the poor and marginalised. It will become apparent that the Lord controls the destiny of nations [Marshall 1996:32], and any provocation intended to militate against his moral laws will invite judgment and fitting retribution.

Scholars have assigned Amos a date circa 760 BC [Motyer 1994:628, 792]. Amos hailed from Tekoa [1 Samuel 1:1; 2 Samuel 14:2; 2 Chronicles 11:6] south of Jerusalem, Judea. He was a fig farmer and a tender of sheep. He was not a prophet, by neither training nor practice but was called and appointed to mission by Yahweh (7:14) [Marshall 1996:31].

In 805 BC, Assyria conquered Syria removing an age-old enemy of Israel, after which Assyria itself descended into a period of political and economic decline. King Jeroboam seized this opportunity to extend the frontiers of Israel to the boundaries previously established by King Solomon [2 Kings 14:25]. This restructuring gave Israel access and control of essential trade routes [Motyer 1994:792].

Trade now increased considerably, and commercial prosperity ensued. A dominant wealthy class emerged, living in prodigious opulence. As it customarily occurs, prosperity accompanies exploitation of the poor [Amos 5:11; 6:6] [Motyer 1994:792].

At the heart of Amos’s sociology rests the postulation that social offences [sins] are transgressions against God. Motyer further elucidates that humanity is accountable only to God for their conduct or perhaps misconduct. God rewards good behaviour with blessings. Conversely, He punishes offensive behaviour. It follows, therefore, that “society does not rest on independent, mechanical principles – market forces, money supply, Gross National Product – for its prosperity. Prosperity comes from divine blessing and no matter how efficient the economy, it cannot prosper if it is under his curse” [Motyer 1994:792].

Amos clarifies that God is concerned with justice, how war is waged and how commerce is conducted [1:3; 13]. He is concerned that obligations agreed to are honoured [1:9]. He is outraged by avarice and materialism, which tolerates the end justifying the means [4:1-3]. God is concerned when people enjoy extravagance and luxury, oblivious of the needs of the poor [3:12-15; 4:1; 6:4-6]. God is infuriated with arrogance, self-importance and callousness [4:1; 6:1], the denial of justice to the oppressed in the law courts [2:6, 7; 5:7, 10, 11, 12, 15] and commercial dishonesty and the cold-heartedness of ‘big business’ when it treats people as commodities [1:6]. [Motyer 1994:792].

In the above, Amos demands from God’s people a measure of righteousness [5:24] and character consistent with the attributes of His divine nature. Anything less is unacceptable! Whether a pagan nation or chosen people, immorality and injustice [primarily to the poor], idolatry and dishonesty, will receive stern retribution [Marshall 1996:32].

The cardinal sin of Israel was to become insensitive to God’s word, abandoning the virtue of obedience. God judged the pagan nations around Israel for offences against humanity, for violating conscience-taught standards, which make people human [1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1]. Judah and Israel had transgressed the holy covenant by turning away from revealed truth [2:4, 11-12] with consequent moral and social collapse [Marshall 1996:31].

Yahweh is appalled that the pagan nations committed such gruesome and horrific offences one against another.

Damascus is accused of savagery, using iron toothed sleighs to butcher the people of Gilead [1:3].

Gaza fixated on profit, captured entire communities and sold them as slaves to Edom [1:6].

Tyre breached sacred agreements; sold slave communities to Edom, contravening a treaty of brotherhood [1:9].

Edom, in furious, compassionless anger, ruthlessly attacked brother-nations with the sword (1:11).

Ammon slashed open the bellies of expectant mothers from Gilead in an avaricious attempt to extend their borders [1:13].

Moab’s hatred of Edom’s king was so intense and despicable that they even burned the king’s bones to ashes [2:1].

Against these prevailing conditions of pagan indiscretions, we find Israel entrapped in a life of ostentatious affluence. Amos emphasises that at the heart of Israel’s transgressions lies not her wealth but her indifference to God’s laws and her intentional infringement of the same. The false religion she fabricated for herself was the direct cause of many of her social ills. God’s ways became dull and unattractive. She craved something much more exhilarating. The thrills of sexual indulgence became electrifying [Motyer 1994:797-799].

Judah rejected the holy decrees of the covenant; followed false gods their ancestors once worshipped [2:4]

Israel sins also are nefarious and many [2:6-8]:

  • Callousness against the poor, miserliness toward the oppressed
  • Robbed poor people of their land
  • Oppressed and denied justice to the underprivileged
  • Fathers and sons slept with the same prostitute – decadently immoral
  • Revelled and fornicated next to the holy altar
  • Women lounged in debauched smugness [4:1]

Is the modern church any different to Israel? Are the pagans amongst the churches any different to the nations then? Sadly, the church and state like Israel have become engrossed in affluent lifestyles, apathetic to morality, and oblivious of the needs of those who languish in poverty. The warnings issued by Moses are as valid today as they were then the Lord your God gives you the ability to produce wealth and if you forget the Lord your God and follow other gods……you will surely be destroyed” (Deut. 8:18-19).

Amos’ prophesy took decades to materialise. Then the sleeping giant, Assyria, rose from her slumber, in 722 BC captured, and led Israel into captive exile. Almost two and a half decades into democracy, the signs of judgement are evident in South Africa – the economy is in recession, the capture of state assets apparent, every institution is in decline or overtaken by entropy. Thousands of schoolgirls get pregnant every year, millions of people are addicted to drugs, alcohol, and pornography. The poor in urban and rural settlements regularly protest for lack of essential services, whilst politicians and the emerging middle-class live in unrestrained extravagance. How reminiscent?

The church is conspicuous by her silence on state corruption. She has not been vocal on the plundering and looting of state assets and taxpayer’s cash. Something as serious as “Marikana” has to shock church hierarchy before synods and presbyteries send congregations letters of concern.

The state and, sadly, many churches no longer respect biblical truth. They blaspheme and syncretise the faith. The poor are worse off now than ever in the history of this nation. The ruling party is imploding from within, turning on the faithful within its ranks and often using state institutions to deal extremely harshly with those who seek to reinstate morality – reminiscent of the dark days preceding 1994 – the nation has unquestionably lost its way! Sadly, the church also has lost its moral compass!

The church has lost sight of its Godly role. Is the church any different to the times of Amos? All the nations’ sins, rape, abortions, murders, plundering and looting of state assets and crimes against the poor and marginalised reverberate similar acts as Israel.

The church must guard against becoming secular; prosperity must not become a snare, and neither should complacency restrict God’s mission. Christian ethics and morality must arrest the impulse for sexual indulgence and the abuse of women so prevalent and pervasive in these times. Amos’ call is contemporary; it asks whether Christian’s hearts are running after many things? Have God’s ways become mundane? Does the church want something more exciting? Yahweh rejects worship in such a setting; note the contemptuous rejection of Israel’s worship, for she had forgotten about the misery of her neighbour in her complacent affluence.

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

I chose this portion of Scripture because twenty-seven years after liberation, an unchristian evil challenges the Church of Christ in South Africa. She is still, to a large extent, divided into ethnic classes. One may argue that this is the residual effect of historical segregation. This behaviour pattern, with some exceptions, is evident even in congregations where people still group by ethnicity or affluence. This behaviour trend must undoubtedly influence the credibility of the church’s mission to the poor. The Proverbs tell us, “It is a sin to despise one’s neighbour, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy” (14:21). In the light of Amos’ prophesy, so current, and to transcend the social divide, Christians must examine whom Jesus said is their neighbour.

Luke (Gk. Loukas), generally thought to be a Gentile, was a close companion and fellow-worker with the apostle Paul (Philemon 1:24) and a physician by training (Col.4:14). Luke comes across as sincere, a person of integrity sticking close to Paul in his distress (2 Tim. 4:11) (Marshall 1996:703).

Irenaeus was the first to attribute authorship of the Gospel to Luke (and the Acts), with many credible scholars following as early as the second century (120 AD). Authorship disputes have not been convincing (Marshall 1996:703).

Some scholars have suggested a date of writing as early as 60 AD., which seems improbable since it is common knowledge that Luke used Mark’s work extensively as a source. And given that Mark wrote circa 70 AD. The alternate date, 80 AD, is more acceptable. (Marshall 1996:703).

Marshall (1994:978) tells how Luke portrays the story of Jesus as a piece of history, more of a biography than the other synoptic gospels. The central theme is salvation, with frequent words “preach the gospel” and “salvation”. Salvation is for all, the lost, underprivileged, the poor, women, children and even notorious sinners.

In the course of Jesus’ ministry, a young lawyer stands up, probably out of respect, and asks how one may qualify for eternal life (25). In typical Jewish style, Jesus promptly refers the young man to the law. The lawyer, naturally conversant with the law, quotes from Scripture, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18b) (Blane: 2007, https://episcopal.wordpress. com/2007/11/16/ parable-of-the-good-samaritan-an-exegesis/26 Feb 2017)

Embarrassed somewhat by the answer, the lawyer tries to regain the initiative by pressing Jesus further for a more precise definition of the word neighbour’ (29) (Marshall 1994:998). Jesus replies with a remarkable parable. One would have expected to hear Jesus teach that Jews should show love to everybody, even to a Samaritan. But in fact, Jesus demonstrates how even a Samaritan may be nearer to the Kingdom than a devout but unmerciful Jew (Marshall 1994:998).

Luke tells of a ‘certain man’ heading down to Jericho on a road scholars call “bloody way”, fraught with danger when thieves attacked the man, stripped him of his clothing, beat him and abandoned him for dead (30). A priest, and later a Levite, came by and presuming the man dead “passed by on the other side”, ostensibly fearing defilement (31, 32) (Marshall 1994:998).

One can scarcely imagine the shock and contempt when Jesus mentions the word Samaritan for no one ever imagined that a Samaritan would come to the aid of the wounded traveller (Blane: 2007 https://episcopal.wordpress.com/2007/11/16/parable-of-the-good-samaritan-an-exegesis/). Jesus tells of a Samaritan who came past. He stopped, looked at the man, and his heart stirred with deep compassion (33). Luke elucidates, this compassion propels the Samaritan to prompt action. He gets off his donkey, gently pours his oil and wine on the man’s wounds, bandages his injuries, dresses the man in his clothes and lifts him onto his donkey, presumably whilst he walked alongside, transporting him to safety and comfort (34). The Samaritan books the man into the inn paying all costs, lodged there the night and before leaving the following day, advanced the innkeeper money to cover his keep, promising to make good any shortfall on his return. (35)

Then Jesus asks again, “Which of these do you think was a neighbour to the man?” (36). The lawyer would not articulate the word “Samaritan” but responds, “The one who had mercy on him” (37a).

Jesus concludes, “Go and do likewise” (37b).

In this country so divided, historically and presently, people tend to choose neighbours selectively. Ethnic groups show blatant hatred one for another. When poverty-stricken miners protested for a slight increase in wages, it resulted in the deaths of some forty-four of the poorest of our neighbours. Church engagement was inadequate and disappointingly slow.

In 1915/16, the Provincial Government of Johannesburg moved mentally ill patients to NGO’s, a move that saw some hundred and forty deaths from neglect, cold and dehydrated. Again, church engagement was inadequate and disappointingly slow.

The poor get poorer every day whilst the rich get even more prosperous as borne out by a *Gini coefficient of 57.8 in 2000 escalating to 63.4 in 2011, currently some 65.0 (*see definition below) (World Bank, http://www.indexmundi .com/facts/south-africa/indicator/SI.POV.GINI 5/7/17). South Africa is one of the most unequal countries presently, given that an index of 100 denotes perfect inequality in income distribution. The national treasury is currently borrowing money to make up the shortfall in grant payments to the poor. Such consumption expenditure is certainly not sustainable, especially with negative growth in a junk status economy. The church is still very silent!

Luke tells of how Jesus takes a straightforward question, “Who is my neighbour?” (29b) and suggests that the real question is instead, “Do I behave as a neighbour (i.e. a person who helps others)?” Jesus does not detail or specify whom one should help but intimates that failure to keep the commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) stems not from a misunderstanding but a lack of love (Marshall 1994:998).

This parable challenges the church to comprehend the gravity of the role of the Samaritan and the words Go and do likewise” (37b).

In pursuit of these ideals, many Christians, unfortunately, become vulnerable to the lure of the ‘prosperity gospel’ and its misleading doctrine that the benefits of a healthy, wealthy, and happy life are the right of the faithful. People generally seek to aspire to a productive, flourishing life that yields good health and a reasonable standard of living. This inclination can become somewhat risky when the pursuit of the promise of prosperity obscures the essence of the true Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Jones 2015,https://www. thegospelcoalition.org/article/5-errors-of-the-prosperity-gospel)

In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus dispels the myth people generally are lured to, that much wealth implies God’s blessing and conversely that poverty signifies God’s chastisement for sin. It is precisely this kind of belief system that engenders a heartless insolence toward the poor. (Leitch in http://www.twopaths.com/)

Worse still, this nuance breeds an unjustifiable callousness toward the poor and marginalised. Whilst the Bible makes no general promise of great wealth for God’s covenant people, it is clear that some are blessed with much more than others. Cliff Leitch sums up succinctly, notwithstanding Biblical forewarnings, that wealth does not signify God’s special favour; many Christians and non-Christians alike still opine that poverty is chastisement for trespasses. (Leitch 2007:2 in http://www.twopaths.com/).

King Jehoshaphat followed God’s commands meticulously and did not consult nor worship the pagan gods of Baal; Judah is consequently blessed, and the king also held in high esteem, becomes extremely wealthy (2 Chronicles 17:3-5). The book of Job also presents a mysterious case of a prosperous man (Job 1:1-3) whom we note God twice pronounced as a righteous person more God-fearing than any other on earth (Job 1:8, 2:3). Sadly, as a function of being sandwiched in a cosmic battle, he loses his family and every possession and further suffers the most excruciating experience of affliction, alienation and ridicule. Alone on the ash heap of contempt, he confesses, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Amazingly, God heals Job, extends his lifespan and blesses him with a brand new family and more incredible wealth than he initially possessed (Job 42:12-16) (Leitch 2007:2 in http://www.twopaths.com/).

On the other hand, many New Testament examples allude to devout people who joyfully served the Kingdom with no material wealth at all. A case in point is the life and martyrdom of the apostles; then, there were the first Christians who sold their superfluous possessions and shared the proceeds with the poor (Acts 2:45). Finally, Jesus commends the widow who gives to God out of her poverty, remarking – “she gave everything…all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44b); “she put into the treasury more than all the others” (Mark 12:43b). The Christian, all the same, can take consolation from the many promises in Scripture – “And my God shall supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Paul in Philippians 4:19); “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (David in Ps. 23:1).

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus teaches that people blessed with wealth must acknowledge that this is God’s gift for reasonable use in the Kingdom, particularly in caring for the poor. Jesus alludes to a reward attached to such Christian service, “Come you who are blessed of my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you…” (Matthew 25:34), he further concludes “…whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40). Paul, instructing Timothy on the evils of the love for money, makes clear that “godliness is not a means to financial gain (1 Timothy 6:5c), in fact putting our hope in God ensures he provides all things for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17b) (Leitch 2007:2 in http://www.twopaths.com/)

Paul writes to Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

God already knows the plans he has for each one of his people (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wealth is not inherently evil, neither is poverty a blessing; it is instead the obsession for wealth that runs contrary to love for God. Devotedness to God requires that he take precedence in the Christian life: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (NLT, Luke 16:13) (Leitch 2007:3 in http://www.twopaths.com/)

To conclude this chapter, the principle of gleaning comes to mind (Leviticus 19:9-10). If Israel received a command not to reap on the edges of their fields but leave it to the poor, today believers can do likewise by budgeting part of their income for the poor. For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give – large or small – will be used to measure what is given back to you.” (TLB, Luke 6:38).

When it comes to recommendations, we all know there are as many solutions as there are experts. So then, as I prayerfully outline proposals, I would like to make clear that it is not by such works that people are ‘saved’ but only by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross of Calvary. As a redeemed people, in obedience to the command of our Lord, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21), Christians go on to produce good works under the guidance and help of God the Holy Spirit. [James 2:14-26]

As Hancke (ibid 6.1) suggests, developing a culture to work with the poor and needy to seek out and provide sustainable solutions will not just happen. Pastors must first receive training to understand the concept of practical theology. They have to transcend their restricted way of life to go beyond environmental, societal, political, racial, traditional, spiritual and moral limitations to reach the poor, even if it means they expose themselves to some degree of discomfort.

Osmer’s model in paragraph 6.4 above explicates. I will, therefore, not repeat the detail here but will conclude by reiterating Osmer’s primary purpose is to train pastors in practical theology. Osmer’s model provides invaluable guidelines, firstly for training pastors, then training trainers who will devolve the vision and methodology down to the leadership, i.e. deacons and elders. Specialists are available to train pastors from local churches in small groups. The church needs to enlist this help and spearhead the initiative in its immediate vicinity.

Many congregants ache to do something, anything for their Lord. That is because mission is a unique innate quality of God’s people. God’s people (imago Dei) called to mission, God’s mission (missio Dei), must like Ignatius Swart (ibid 6.2), be cognizant of the fact that one is dealing here with complex issues that stem from forces at work in society, often peripheral to the scope and control of the Christian environment. Any practical theological attempt to engage with poverty will require utmost integrity, with solutions that work and are sustainable. Hence, Osmer’s second objective is to train spiritual educators to prepare students and congregants in the art of practical theological expedition (Osmer 2008:83 reviewed by Smith KG www.sats.edu.za, 1/3/17).

To this end preaching and teaching from the pulpit, bible study groups, prayer groups must be oriented to practical work (diakonia) with trainers transferring knowledge, skills and resources to willing congregants who in time move from their complacency and comforts into active service of loving God and neighbour.

The church cannot rescue all of its poverty-stricken neighbours in one fell swoop but can start by brainstorming and implementing small workable projects. Much prayer, patience and handholding will be required to ensure success in such delicate fieldwork.

The ACAT model (ibid 6.5) comes highly recommended with a Christian ethos and a proven forty-year record of accomplishment. ACAT successfully launched and sustained projects in South Africa and many African countries to break the cycle of poverty and restore to individuals, families, and communities self-sufficiency, dignity, and worth that poverty had so cruelly deprived for many years.

Jesus’ message when he read from the scrolls in the synagogue at Nazareth was precisely this. (Luke 4:18-19) Osmer’s four-point model of practical theology submits that formal training is not necessarily essential when used appropriately. Pastors and congregants can benefit immensely by carefully ruminating on the fact-finding questions. (Osmer 2008 reviewed by Smith KG www.sats.edu.za, 1/3/17)

I now suggest that after much prayer, project leaders draw up a program with pastors and leaders setting timelines for the following:

  • Introduce the concept of biblical Diakonia to the congregation
  • Train pastors and leaders in “practical theology.”
  • Conduct investigations into the poor in the community – in line with Osmer’s four question model (ibid 6.4)
  • Develop an appropriate response model – church to the community
  • Draw on the experience of senior people at ACAT to peruse plans
  • Investigate sponsorships
  • Implement a prototype to start the initiative
  • Document the elements of change in the lives of congregants and targeted struggling families
  • Manage the change – probably the most difficult of tasks
  • Assess resources; gradually and incrementally roll out plans – perhaps a prototype initially
  • Arrange a ministry team to focus on setting the agenda for teaching Godly lifestyle and accepting Jesus as Lord.
  • Set times for regular project reviews and update plans as and when, and wherever necessary
  • Involve other congregations and churches (either upfront or once the project is successfully underway)

Current ministry work amongst the poor, i.e. teaching income-producing skills and developing sustainable small businesses, can be absorbed into the main Diakonia project.

Many congregants ache to do something, anything for their Lord. That is because ‘mission’ is a unique, innate quality in God’s people. God calls his people (imago Dei) to His mission (Missio Dei). Like Ignatius Swart outlines (ibid 6.2), they must be mindful that one is dealing here with complex issues that stem from forces at work in society, often peripheral to the scope and control of the Christian environment. Any practical theological attempt to engage with poverty will require utmost integrity, with solutions that work and are sustainable. Hence, Osmer’s second objective is to train spiritual educators to prepare students and congregants in the art of practical theological expedition (Osmer 2008:83 reviewed by Smith KG www.sats.edu.za, 1/3/17).

To this end, preaching and teaching from the pulpit, bible study groups, prayer groups must be oriented to practical work (Diakonia). Trainers must transfer knowledge, skills and resources to willing congregants who, in time, move from their complacency and comforts into active service of loving God and neighbour.

The church cannot rescue all of its poverty-stricken neighbours in one fell swoop but can start by brainstorming and implementing small workable projects. Each project will require much prayer, patience and handholding to ensure success in such delicate fieldwork.

In conclusion, I cannot overemphasise that the nature of this ministry is not for the flashy or flamboyant personality. This ministry involves hard work, requires critical thinking, creativity and, especially important, dedication and consistency. John Wesley wrote, “Do not confine yourself to the affluent and elegant….for there is no precedent for it in the life of our Lord or the Apostles…creep in among the poor, in spite of the dirt and a hundred disgusting circumstances.”

Gini index: measures the extent to which the distribution of income (or, in some cases, consumption expenditure) among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Lorenz curve plots the cumulative percentages of total income received against the cumulative number of recipients, starting with the poorest individual or household. The Gini index measures the area between the Lorenz curve and a hypothetical line of absolute equality, expressed as a percentage of the maximum area under the line. Thus a Gini index of 0 represents perfect equality, while an index of 100 implies perfect inequality.

Diaconal: relating to the work of a deacon and deaconess but may include pastors, elders and congregation leaders. [Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diaconal. Accessed 30 Aug. 2021.]

Diakonia: is a Christian theological term from Greek that encompasses the call to serve the poor and oppressed

Missio Dei: is a Latin the­o­log­i­cal term that can be trans­lated as “Mis­sion of God”, it refers to the work of the church as be­ing part of God’s work. So the church’s mis­sion is a sub­set of a larger whole mis­sion that is, it is both part of God’s mis­sion to the world and not the en­tirety of God’s work in the world. [https://www.wycliffe.net/]

Missiology: the study of religious (typically Christian) missions and their methods and purposes. [Oxford Languages and Google – English | Oxford Languages (oup.com)]

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