As Presbyterians, we recognize and embrace the call of Jesus Christ to love our neighbor and help those who are in need. Reaching out to others seems to be a natural outflow of our identity as Christians.
We want to “do something” — especially now, when the economic crisis in our world has made issues of poverty more prevalent. The problem is, we don’t always know what to do or how to do it.
People confront us in parking lots looking for money for food. Street corners and busy intersections seem to be filling up with individuals holding signs declaring their search for work. The number of calls and walk-ins to our churches has increased dramatically as more and more people seek assistance. Non-profit assistance agencies, experiencing a decline in revenue, are looking to churches to provide much-needed support.
We want to “do something.” But often we are unequipped or under-equipped to know how best to meet these various requests.
In Loving Our Neighbor: A Thoughtful Approach to Helping People in Poverty Beth Lindsay Templeton gives a thoughtful and insightful guide in helping us to answer those difficult questions. Templeton’s background in education and ministry, along with 25 years of experience in a human services non-profit, is apparent in her readable and practical approach to dealing with the issues of poverty in our communities.
Divided into three main sections, Templeton begins her book in Scripture. In Part One, the first four chapters are drawn from sermons and give a Biblical basis for why people of faith respond to those who are in need. Each ends with study questions and prayer, with a fifth chapter providing an extensive list of additional Biblical passages for further consideration.
Part Two is by far the longest section of the book and includes practical approaches to addressing poverty. This is not only a how-to guide, but also helps the reader better understand poverty and discover ways to interact with those experiencing poverty. She educates the reader toward challenging middle-class assumptions and provides numerous examples and anecdotes to illustrate her points. One main goal and strength of this book is its effort to help the reader gain insight into the different thinking patterns and rationales used by various socio-economic groups. Templeton instructs readers to put aside stereotypes and look at situations through the lens of the one who is living in poverty.
In the ninth chapter she provides a step-by-step approach for setting up a direct service ministry. This section is invaluable for church groups and other organizations attempting to start an outreach ministry. Due to her extensive experience, the author knows what questions to ask and how to find the answers. In the following chapter, Templeton provides an in-depth look at how a group might specifically work with families in need, emphasizing relationship building, partnership, and setting boundaries. This specific case study is exhaustive and provides clear steps that could be transferable to a variety of other helping situations.
In Part Three, Templeton takes her readers into the next levels beyond the transactional approach of simply handing out goods and services to moving toward advocacy. She recognizes that people are at differing levels of response to poverty: from simply addressing the symptoms, to being able to address the specific situations, to finally attending to the underlying systems that allow poverty to exist. She graciously pushes her readers toward the deeper response as she distinguishes charity from justice and suggests that shalom, or a “balancing of the scales” among all person, is the ultimate goal.
Loving Our Neighbor is presented in an uncomplicated and straightforward style, making it easy to read and understand. Study questions at the end of each chapter are useful in both group discussion settings or for the individual reader. Worksheets, charts, samples, and exercises are included throughout the book to help the reader retain key concepts, explore points further, and provide ease in follow-up.
This practical and comprehensive guide is a vital resource for church leaders, mission committees, ministry teams, and study groups who want not only to explore why we are called in our ministry as Christians to reach out in love to our neighbors in poverty, but also to accomplish it in such a way that is respectful and compassionate to those whom we serve.
Rachel A. Wann is coordinator of community ministry at Second Church, Indianapolis, Ind.