How the church in Africa is hurting the poor

Christians from the north marvel at how African people living in extreme poverty are able to worship God with deep affection, love and sincerity.  What is their secret? They have seen God supply their daily needs, indeed their daily bread! They can relate to the Apostle Paul when he pleads with the Lord that the thorn be taken away. While his plea was not granted he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In the midst of physical want, frustration and weakness, they have found God present, hence deep adoration and praise.  They don’t enjoy being poor, but they have found the sustaining and keeping power of Christ to be more than enough for them.

The poor in Africa love the local church because it is the only place they are treated with dignity because of their identity in Christ. In every other context they are measured by their career, their vehicle, their legacy or their money.  The church understands that before the cross there is not a rich man or a man with a legacy to boast about, but before the cross everyone is unified in their dependence on Christ.  So the African Christian song, “I was nobody until I met Christ” is sang from a deep place in our heart and soul.

Now imagine this materially poor person receiving a message from a preacher on Sunday that if you are truly a born again Christian you will be known by your job, your wife, your holiday to Cape Town and the like. Can you see this person saying, “I’m a failure,” or “maybe Christ did not have me in mind when he went to cross to lose his identity that I can have one.” The poor are listening to another gospel that is telling them their true identity in Christ is measured the same way identity is measured outside of the church instead of by your humble submission as a desperate sinner.

download There is nothing wrong with having a decent house, a state of the art vehicle and plenty of money in a bank account. Our concern is how you got your wealth, and even more importantly what do you believe your wealth says about your identity in Christ? Do you have a clear Christian testimony on how you daily take up your cross and follow Him? Are you able to share how you have lost your life for the gospel? Have you received the blessings of God with an attitude of deep worship and adoration? How are you using your privileged position to help others in a way that affirms their human dignity as people made in the image of God? We have a lot people who love God, are physically poor, and are seeking ways to have their capacity strengthened. We can destroy their self-worth and undermine the Gospel when we tell them their identity in Christ is equivalent to what they have in their bank account. 

People living in extreme poverty who love Christ know that their identity is hidden in Christ. What they need more than anything else is a preacher who can help them apply the word of God to other areas of their life so that they may begin to see the power of Christ in all areas of their lives. They need preachers to remind them about the importance of hard work. They need preachers to tell them not to despise small beginnings. They need preachers who have an audience with the well resourced to encourage their listeners to be generous, not only with their money, but with their lives as well. How is your church helping the poor?

Lawrence Temfwe