the shape of leadership

A Hand Up out of Poverty

The power of relationships

Josh Longanecker on December 6, 2017

I’ve been thinking … ,” Dwain said sheepishly, looking down at his tattoos and scars.

I was driving Dwain (not his real name) to sign the papers and get the keys to his first apartment he’d ever had on his own. When my team found him, he was strung out on drugs and sleeping on the streets.

Dwain was in his early 30s with a life defined by raging addiction and a string of broken relationships. He had no family left to support him, no marketable skills, no hope and no future.

We started working with Dwain to get him clean and turn his life around. We began coaching him, helping in the search for employment and finding him a place to live. Most importantly, we took an interest in Dwain and let him know he had value.

A few guys began to build relationships with Dwain, and in time, his thinking changed. For the first time in his life, the future was more than the next hit on the crack pipe. Dwain started planning for the days ahead and believing that a normal life was possible. Soon, he was sober and off the streets.

Dwain and I drove in silence for a while. Finally, I asked, “What are you thinking about?”

“I’ve been thinking … about the future,” he said, looking up and smiling as we pulled up to his new home.

A New Perspective

Mindsets change when people see the value in a new way of living — and recognize the value in themselves. What changed Dwain was not the incredible systems or 12-step programs he was engaged in.

Dwain was forever transformed because for the first time in his life, people showed him his value. Being around people who were different challenged Dwain and caused him to change his mindset and begin thinking about tomorrow.

The story of Dwain is typical of those who are struggling emotionally and financially. Programs are useful, but what most people need is someone to come alongside and help them see life from a different perspective.

In her book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Dr. Ruby K. Payne argues that one of the keys for those in poverty, particularly generational poverty, is relationship with someone not in their economic class. Without those influences, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to transform their mindset toward poverty.

Payne writes, “One of the key issues in making the transition from poverty to the middle class is … developing relationships with people who are different from you.”

The local church is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of people.

What people need more than money is relationship. When thinking about helping others escape poverty, most people consider giving to a local shelter or utilizing social workers and governmental programs. While those resources are important, I would argue that they lack the complete solution to helping the poor.

It takes more than monetary donations or programs to change a generational mindset. Relationships are an essential component to the solution, and the most effective organization on the planet at leveraging those relationships is the local church!

The Church’s Role

The local church is uniquely positioned to meet the needs of people. Here are three truths that should motivate us to reach out to the poor:

God upholds the cause of the helpless. Scripture is replete with references to how God cares for the poor and the powerless. One such passage is Psalm 146:7-9: “He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The Lord frees the prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are weighed down. The Lord loves the godly. The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows” (NLT).

God cares deeply about the physical plight of people on this earth, and as believers, so should we.

True faith leads to action. James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ — but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (NLT).

According to James, faith that lacks action to help those in need is not real faith. Genuine faith is demonstrated when people see a need and become a part of the solution.

We have the perspective people need. There are larger realities at play than simply helping people escape poverty. For the local church, our motivation to provide for a physical need is driven by our conviction to address a person’s much deeper spiritual need.

It’s great to provide financial assistance to someone, but if people meet Jesus, everything about their lives will change! Poverty loses its hold on people when they know they have a hope and a future in Jesus that is brighter than they ever could have imagined!

It is no surprise that a relationship is one of the most effective ways to change someone. Isn’t that how God chose to change us? He doesn’t require us to meet a code of conduct or check off a moral to-do list. Rather, God invites us into a relationship that literally changes everything about us.

We can offer the same hope to people in our communities. We can show people their worth and dignity by not only giving to the poor but by engaging them in relationship! When God looks at you, He sees your value and unlimited potential. Will you look at people in your community with those same eyes?

This article originally appeared on, and was adapted from, the James River Church blog.


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