A Christian Perspective on Empowering a Community

We have continued to learn the many ways Rockford is coming together to discuss the transformation and empowerment of our community.  As a fairly new resident of the region I have been thrilled to see the excitement for bettering our community, especially through community feedback and support.  In a recent class I teach on Social Welfare Policy in America a student of mine wrote an exceptional paper that speaks volumes to the power we have as individuals, as a community and as people of faith.  I hope you enjoy her words and review as much as I did.

A Christian Perspective on Empowering a Community

Written by:  Lori Morhardt (Student at Judson University)

“Ideas, thoughts and guidelines in how to create a cohesive community and neighborhood with regard to Christian principles are discussed in Robert D. Lupton’s book “Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor”. It is not enough to dole out free food, clothing or services to the poor as this merely contributes to dependency on these programs and does nothing to instill a sense of value and self-worth. While outright charity does have its place in times of dire need such as a natural disaster, this tact will fail miserably when the desired end result is one of a revitalized and rejuvenated neighborhood. As Christians and children of God, social service providers are called upon to minister to those less fortunate in such a way so as to affirm their inherent worth and dignity and to instill a sense of value. A lower economic status does not bar one from contributing to ones community. All people have something of value to offer to society. Implementing development – not betterment – programs lead to empowerment and self-reliance which then translates to a more effective community.”

The cornerstone of Robert D. Lupton’s (2007) book “Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor” reveals how to bring about the rebirth and advancement of a community without damaging the heart and dignity of the individuals of that community.  It is a delicate process to construct growth wherein the good and betterment of the community is not at odds with the betterment of the individual citizens of that community.  Social service providers have a responsibility to model and effectively implement empowerment programs so that God’s grace is apparent to even the most vulnerable of His children.

Lupton (2007) believes that the greatest instruction Jesus Christ gave us to follow after giving all our love to God, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:32 NLT).  Lupton believes that God does not want our good actions as actions alone; they have no value unless accompanied by love as well.  This is of utmost importance in actions of caring for the disadvantaged of the community.  It is the responsibility of those providing and implementing programs to the vulnerable, to do so in such a way that shows understanding of their inherent value and worth as a fellow human being and child of God (2007).

In 1999, Clydesdale wrote that the dominant American ideology that has persisted over many generations is one that if you work hard you will prosper.  Clydesdale also found that this thought holds true across the board among members of differing ages and incomes and even races; and those with higher economic and educational status tend to have a more adverse opinion of the poor (1999).  The poor are often separated into two distinct categories: the indolent and immoral undeserving with a poor work ethic and the deserving who are unfortunate victims of hard economic times lacking education and/or suitable job opportunities (Martin, 2014).  This same thought is asserted in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 which culminates in the simple statement that if you don’t work you don’t eat.

Clydesdale reports that government programs aimed at providing individuals with a skill set are looked on more favorably (especially so by those with a higher level of education) than programs that simply provide handouts (1999).  Lupton (2007) agrees with this.  Community development programs that empower and promote ownership, while retaining the dignity and worth of individual recipients of that community are the responsible and diligent way to provide assistance to the poor and disenfranchised.  These people do not need our charity in a monetary form as much as they need our responsible acts in helping them to “walk”.  Much as what Peter did in healing the lame beggar in Acts 3:1-11 (NLT), social service providers must be the vehicle that delivers healing to the “lame beggars” of our time so that they can fulfill their rightful place in society as capable and productive citizens.

Any endeavor that is worth undertaking requires time and effort; this is what makes the task meaningful.  Clydesdale (1999) suggests that this thought, coupled with the highly individualistic mentality of Americans, is the reason those with a college education tend to look unfavorably at the poor.  Much dedication is necessary to attend class, prepare assignments, take tests and write papers.  All of this requires precious time and financial commitment of the student, all the while balancing work and family obligations.  This is undertaken so that aspirations of a better life (e.g. better job opportunities, increased job satisfaction and greater financial resources) can be fulfilled (1999).  College students have made a fair exchange of their time and effort to earn a degree.

Part of the responsibility of a loving parent is to instill good moral values in children.  Many parents accomplish this by providing an allowance in exchange for performing chores or doing well in school.  The child earns something rather than being given something; if they fail in performing the chore, they do not receive the benefit.  This approach of loving discipline is difficult to implement but short term satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) on the child’s part (or that of the parent) in no way matches the long term benefit of shaping and strengthening the character of the child in the act of molding them to become well adjusted, respectful adults.  In regards to the poverty stricken, the concept of loving discipline can be used to follow Christ’s instruction to love my neighbor as myself.  This often arduous style of assistance will guide the less fortunate and put them in a better position of achieving their full potential in the eyes of God and society.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord.  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give a future and a hope.”  (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).

As a way to preserve the dignity of charity recipients, Lupton (2007) agrees with the notion that the fair exchange approach is a legitimate method for the poor to earn food, clothing, shelter or goods.  A very common and acceptable charitable act is that of “adopting” a family at Christmas time, wherein a needy family is selected and gifts are purchased for the children of the family.  Yet, as Lupton (2007) writes, his observations revealed that the joyfulness of the event was shared only by the children and the gift-givers.  To the parents of the family, it was an insult in their failure to provide.  Subsequently, the Adopt-a-Family program morphed into Pride for Parents in the form of a “toy store”, where the items that would have been given directly to the family are donated, moderately priced and then sold to the parents.  If cash is an issue to making an outright purchase of the item, parents are allowed to “volunteer” their time in exchange for payment (2007).  This is a win-win situation for all parties involved.  The giver still performs an act of compassion based on love by providing the origin of the gift, and the parents’ dignity and pride is intact as they watch their children open gifts they were personally able to bestow (2007).

Lupton (2007) uses the time-honored proverb of teaching a man to fish as an empowerment technique that allows the recipient to achieve the means and know-how necessary to be able to provide for the self.  Community development programs based in this philosophy are preferred methods of providing charity and do much to retain the honor and dignity of the recipient, in that the recipient knows that he has fairly earned the money or product.

Bartle (2008) writes about the main elements of community empowerment in his study The Human Factor and Community Empowerment, and agrees with Lupton that when charity assistance is offered and given freely with no strings attached, the spirit and strength of the community is weakened and becomes poor.  Lupton’s ideas about development and empowerment programs are viable options for struggling communities.  To be successful they must include some, if not all, of the following main points addressed by Bartle.

“Empowerment means becoming stronger” (Bartle, 2008).  And to become stronger, communities must display some key traits.  Namely, that accepting assistance should be done with a participatory partnership mindset of promoting self-reliance and not dependency.  Only when the members of the community take full and active ownership of their journey, can they expect to become strong.  It is by facing adversity and weathering the storm together that strengthens the unity of the group.  Add to this a good measure of altruism, confidence and trust in leadership and their networking abilities along with complete agreement of a shared vision, and you have a community group that will make lasting beneficial changes.

This aligns with Lupton’s thoughts on how to make a neighborhood work (2007).  When the need became apparent for a neighborhood watch, Lupton’s community utilized the know-how and networking abilities of one of their own: a former member of the Air Force military police.  This person was able to develop a watch group and establish a cooperative relationship with local law enforcement.  When a thief was apprehended, it was only through the selfless actions of the victim’s neighbors showing up for numerous court proceedings that the perpetrator was eventually convicted and sent to jail.  If these effectively organized community members did not share a common vision or have a vested interest in their neighborhood, then most likely this criminal and others like him would have targeted that area again.  This is what Lupton means when he refers to an effective community (2007).

The calling to serve others is a privilege that comes with great responsibility.  “Much is required from those to whom much is given” (Luke 12:48, NLT).  Many social service workers feel God’s calling in performing charitable works because in essence, they are simply passing on to the less fortunate the same charity God has shown them (Willimon, 1992).  This is a difficult task to accomplish due to the impersonal nature society has evolved to (Willimon, 1992), but no longer can there be an “us” and “them” mentality that promotes separateness and exclusivity.  Neighbors must love and be one with each other.  The Lord made all humans in His image and has given social service providers the amazing ability and desire to be of service to others; this is a highly valued gift to and for God that should be viewed upon with great reverence (Lupton, 2007).


 “Congratulations Lori from your entire class as you seek to make a difference and serve your community” — Mike Brown



Bartle, P. (2008).  The human factor and community empowerment.  Review of human factor studies, 14(1), 99-122.

Clydesdale, T. T. (1999).  Toward understand the role of bible beliefs and higher education in American attitudes toward eradicating poverty, 1964-1996.  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 38(1), 103-118.

Lupton, R. D. (2007).  Compassion, justice and the Christian life: Rethinking ministry to the poor.  Ventura, California: Regal Books.

Martin, M. E. (2014).  History and evolution of social welfare policy.  Introduction to human services: Through the eyes of practice settings (3rd ed., pp. 30, 35).  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Willimon, W. H. (1992).  The effusiveness of Christian charity.  Theology Today, 49(1), 75-81.



  1. January Michels

    You’re One Bright, Kind, Young Lady, With Lots Of Wisdom For You’re Age. Good Luck To You And The Lives You Touch.

  2. Brittney Green

    Go Lori!! Congratulations again..Love Brittney