The 8th principle of CCD is Empowerment. Empowering people is an important element of Christian Community Development. How do you ensure that people are able to help themselves after they have been helped? Oftentimes, Christian ministry, particularly in poor communities, creates dependency. This is no better than the federal government welfare program. The Bible teaches empowerment, not dependency. Enjoy this piece on empowerment, written by South Side pastor Jarrod Willems.
Learning to Fish
The definition of empower is to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. I think of the often-used saying, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; if you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” This is empowerment in action. No longer will the person be dependent on handouts, but now they will be empowered to provide for themselves. In Acts 3:1-10 we see the story of Peter healing a beggar from birth. The man takes up his position to beg in front of the temple, knowing that people will be coming along to give the man money. But this day is different. Today this man is going to encounter Jesus. He is going to encounter Jesus, who is going to heal this man today and empower him to no longer be dependent on the people passing by. Peter says in verse 6, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Peter extends his hand and helps the man up. A miracle happened that day, and the man was healed. A man empowered by Jesus that changed his life forever. This man was no longer going to be able to just eat for the day from what he was able to beg for. Now this man was able to “fish for a lifetime.”
Created to Work
In reading Genesis, we see in Genesis 1:27 that humankind was created in God’s image. The God that created the universe and everything in it empowered humankind to take care of the garden. Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” God trusted and empowered humankind to work, not just sit idly by. Just as God works, humankind was also created in His image to work.
In Deuteronomy 24 and Leviticus 19, we see God’s institution of the gleaning system. In this system, the farmer was to leave some of the crops behind and only go over the field once at harvest. Then those in need would be able to come and gather food to eat. This system established by God gave everyone the ability to meet their needs, and the person in need had to work by gathering the crop for themselves. Empowering people to supply their needs through an act of God working in the lives of everyone. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10, this principle of working is reinforced, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
What Empowerment Looks Like
I hope reading this you are asking the question, how? We no longer live in an agricultural society where the concept of gleaning is even possible. When I arrived at Hope Center about five years ago, I discovered a group of people that had nowhere to go. People that had lost their dignity and, felt disempowered. The people I often interact with have never been given the opportunity to “fish” or even taught to “fish.” These sons and daughters are deeply loved by God, and I believe He wants to people to help empower one another.
Over time I have begun to develop what I am going to call the set of “E’s” that I think we could focus on to begin to once again empower one another. The first is Eternity. Only through surrendering our life to Jesus and confirming our eternity in the presence of God can we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to once again return to a position of being empowered. The next is Edification, like Eternity, but in edification, I believe that as one receives instruction and changes their character, we begin to return to resemble more and more a person created in the image of God. We become disciples of Jesus. The next is Education. A person receives education to “fish.” Rail//Line is one example of the education piece. Equip is the next “E.” Not only equip a person to learn how to “Fish” but also equip a person to handle finances, adversity, loss, emotional trauma, and anything else a person may encounter. Many examples of Equip, would be Celebrate Recovery, The Genesis Process, AA, counseling, and other programs organizations use to equip people. The last “E” is, Engage. The person becomes engaged in the community not only “fishing” to provide for themselves but also begins to engage with others teaching them to “fish” also.
A Collective Vision for Empowerment
One of the first relationships I made at Hope Center was with CLDI. This job of empowering people cannot be done alone. It is going to take us working together. Working together as a body with the same vision of empowerment. To empower humankind, beginning with finding our identity in Jesus, finding our identity as being made in the image of God. Finding ourselves dependent on Jesus, who gives us the power through the Holy Spirit to once again be empowered to “fish” for a lifetime.
1. Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins, Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, (InterVarsity Press, 2013), 153-54.