Why Don’t We Hear About The Kingdom?

Last night at my gig I said something about how we’re saved to bring the kingdom to earth, to fix what’s broken, and part of that is caring for the poor.  I pointed out that 80% of American pastors say they’ve never spoken about the poor, though there are more verses in the bible concerning the poor than there are concerning heaven and hell – and there’s no shortage of talk about those two places.

It was a different kind of gig for me.  A pastor was supposed to pontificate between my songs and the audience was supposed to ask questions.  There wasn’t a whole lot of either – which was fine – but after my bit about poverty and the silence of pastors one audience member did ask a hard question.  “Why don’t we hear more about the kingdom and poverty in church?”

I looked at the pastor to see if he wanted to take a stab at that and he nodded me on.  And I went on.  If I had another shot at answering I could be more coherent and complete I think.  My rambling answer’s been bugging me all night long.  So, here’s another attempt.

THREE REASONS

In my experience, when a pastor explains to me why he won’t allow me to speak about poverty at his church, it is because of one of three reasons. 

  • First, the pastor may have a financial need he perceives as more important than the needs of the poor.  These have been everything from the need for an upgraded sound system to the need to get started on phase four of a building program.
  • Second, the pastor may not understand how connect poverty and kingdom come issues are to all of scripture and therefore worry about how to connect the topic to the worship music set, the announcements, baptism and other elements of the Sunday morning service.  A pastor once told me it was too big of a downer subject for Sunday morning, meaning, I took it, relative to the rest of what his church service usually contains.
  • Third, the pastor may feel that it is inappropriate and/or offputting to his people and especially to visitors for him to ask them to give time or money beyond the usual church offering, believed to be ten percent (not at all a New Testament figure, but that’s another post).  A pastor once told me he’d just asked his people to get involved in vacation bible school, to volunteer, and he didn’t want me to then talk about poverty with them because he didn’t want to make another “ask.” Of course he did make another ask – he passed the offering plate as usual and out of that offering he paid for air-conditioning and his salary etc.  That ask seemed necessary to the purpose of the church and meeting the needs of the poor did not.
  • ONE PROBLEM

    So, in the end, I think the main reason pastors I’ve encountered are reluctant or unwilling to talk about poverty in church is because they are uninformed, not because they are unloving.  The central role of the needy in the story of the kingdom come, and the present tense right-now nature of the kingdom, was not taught to them or impressed deeply enough while the necessity to administrate a church as a CEO/CFO does has been deeply pressed into them.  So their own “needs” supersede, at times, the needs of the poor and the coming of the kingdom – The greatest need of the CEO/CFO/pastor sometimes being to please the congregation.

    As the Church Administration Handbook taught to me in Baylor University’s religion department states, a pastor has the “need to budget, subscribe the budget, and use the funds from this limited resource in keeping with the wishes of the congregation.”

    SPEAKING TO SPIRITUAL PEOPLE

    The reality is though, I’ve experienced over and over again, that the congregation is not upset when asked to help the poor.  It is not against their wishes.

    Ezekiel tells us it’s the Spirit of God who moves us to obey God’s commands and so anyone with the Spirit in them is not immovably opposed to the will of God or the words written down under the guidance of the Spirit.  The task for the person speaking about the poor (pastor, blogger or whatever) is to frame the discussion spiritually, not politically or in purely humanitarian or financial terms – to illustrate persuasively that caring for the poor is deeply inseparably Christian.  And, I’ve found, when that’s done, spiritual people the pastor assumed would resent an “ask” are quick to respond to the need they’ve been presented with.  The wishes of the congregation, I’ve found, are very much in line with the wishes of God when the values and plan of God are simply explained to them.

    Does your pastor ever talk about poverty and the kingdom?  If not, kindly ask them why not and let us know what they say.  I’m curious if the pastors I’ve known are representative of pastor on the whole.