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Charity and change are not the same. Congregations often confuse the former with the latter, which makes it very important for leaders to cast a vision that highlights what’s at stake.

“Charity” can be synonymous with “benevolence.” It’s about meeting immediate needs for an individual, a group or even a community. Some of the work we do is charitable in nature, like giving away school supplies and distributing free meals. Charity can be helpful, but it’s only one part of the work the church is called to do. The vision of God’s reign is a world in which the lame walk, the blind see and the deaf hear. Jesus’ miracles produced real change, which goes further and deeper than charity. Change is hard work, and it often takes a long time. Change may not be the kind of work that a congregation can do in an annual outreach, but it’s work that is well worth doing.

To be clear, for the kid without a winter coat, a free one is probably a welcome gift. However, it’s important to reflect on the circumstances that perpetuate the need. What are the factors in our local community that keep parents from making enough to afford a winter coat? How can we address these issues in our preaching? How can a congregation, or group of congregations, partner with the people most impacted by the problem to design sustainable solutions? 

Jesus fed the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. He also called us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The objective is not to choose charity or change. We are called to give freely to those in need and be faithful witnesses to God’s kingdom on earth.


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Before you go…

The reason I said charity can be helpful is that sometimes the way we do charity is not helpful. When we approach people who have fewer financial resources than we do as if they also have less faith or wisdom, we are perpetuating myths and stereotypes about the poor. We must be mindful that we are serving others in ways that honor their dignity as human beings created in the image of God.

In Acts 3, a man asked Peter and John for a charitable gift. Peter offered him so much more — the gift of power through the name of Jesus — and the man’s life was never the same again. The man asked for charity, and Peter instead opened the door to lasting change. That’s my hope for your congregation. Don’t settle for temporary fixes. Work for change that endures.

You can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity

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