Influencing the Influential
July 14, 2013 | President's Slice
By Joe Hale
I have been challenged more than once regarding the reality that our ministry is primarily an outreach to the wealthier, “influential,” upper- or upper/middle-class. In fact, I must admit this is true. The true question related to this statement is in regard to the “right-ness” of such an effort. Somehow, there seems to be a mindset in Christendom that outreach and ministry to the poor has more value than any other kind of outreach.
Was this indeed what Jesus was saying in his reference to the need of the Christian community to reach out to the poor? No question, Jesus had a lot to say about the poor, but a careful study of Scripture may reveal His teaching to be more about the tendency to neglect the poor than one of placing more value on making the poor the top priority of ministry. Some voices go even further to indicate that any ministry other than those exclusively directed to the poor somehow have their priorities confused.
I approach this subject with caution, realizing that, possibly more than at any time in history the Church of Jesus Christ seems to be self-absorbed with glitz and glamor, razzle-dazzle, self-pleasing, entertainment-centered, name-it claim-it, “Christian” activity rather than the simplicity of the Gospel found in His Word. The Church seems all too eager to adapt to current culture, especially in this area of finances. Scripture predicts such:
2 Timothy 3:1–5 ESV “But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
The predominant culture around the world is that people love three things: self, money, and pleasure. Those three “loves” give rise to a lot of greed and lawlessness. The church is not unaffected by this. Today’s church seems to embrace all-too-quickly this whole idea that “money talks;” and when money talks, the church listens! Every one of us needs to use money, but the currency of the Kingdom is faith. Faith obeys and keeps the word of God.
When wealthy people are in church, they often receive special treatment because of their wealth. I can’t find this in the Bible. While God raises up people in the Body of Christ to minister finances to the Kingdom, I cannot see special treatment for them as a result. I can see the Apostle Paul telling Timothy how to minister to rich people. It could be for this reason Jesus directed His Church not to neglect the poor; the reality being that there simply was no thought given to them when important decisions were made. So Paul tells Timothy: (1 Timothy 6:17–19 ESV) “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” Old Testament instruction includes: (Deuteronomy 8:18 ESV) “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
My point is, there is nothing in Scripture which indicates that wealthy people are innately more worthy or unworthy of our attention, of less or more value than others, nor that they should be less pursued than anyone else in regard to the Church and the Gospel. While it is true that Jesus says it is difficult for a rich man to trust fully in Christ, this in itself puts no value one way or the other on the eternal value of wealthy people –vs- poor people. The truth is we all need Christ—rich and poor, healthy and sick, black and white and brown! The value of one human soul is equal to that of any other human soul—and all valued so much that God’s Son would die on a cross to save that soul!
But a different issue must be considered—the extent of one person’s influence. While the value of the individual soul is clearly equal, the extent of individual influence is vastly different! When our agency was applying for a grant from US AID, the question was asked by some of the committee members, “Why should we invest U.S. government funds in a school that primarily consists of the wealthier people anyway?” This seems like a valid question. The answer is fairly simple: If you invest all your money in ministry to the poor (the factory workers), you will have done a great thing. If you have no school, however, that meets the standards expected by the wealthier folks (the factory owner’s children), then there will be no factory, which means no jobs, which means no factory workers. Indeed, there is a need for ministry to all people, but all people are not reached in the same way.
In the NICS/Oasis ministry, we serve the children of corporate businesses, private entrepreneurs, embassy staff, missionary kids, ambassadors, and influential families who are the “factory owners” by and large. What a wonderful opportunity we have to influence those who will be the future company presidents/owners, leaders, future diplomats, politicians, business owners, movers and shakers of the world! If we teach them well, they have the power and potential to reach “worlds” that we can never touch ourselves! These families personify what it means to “influence” and impact the world. In many places “influential” does not necessarily mean “wealthy.” This is where tuition assistance (scholarship) programs allow us to include children who couldn’t otherwise afford our schools. I think of our wonderful school in Afghanistan… without question, our students/graduates can change that nation. How? These are the children of leaders, and they will one day fill the shoes of their parents. But now, they sit in a classroom learning about good character, how to treat people fairly, and how to show respect even to those who oppose and disagree with you; these children sit under teachers who are having a huge influence on their thinking. They will soon have the tools needed to take their place in the world, and use it for good! Most of these families are influential—not wealthy.
I pray that the ministry of NICS/Oasis will be a Biblical one—never neglecting the poor, nor neglecting the wealthy. Instead, may we focus on how God may use our influence to set off a chain reaction of character-based, God-honoring, influence… one that changes nations!