When we began planting our church a few years ago, we were listening in prayer for what God wants us to do. What we heard God pressing upon us was to minister to the down and out, the poor in spirit, the people who couldn’t pay us back. We were called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of these.
As I’ve been reading the scriptures over the few years since then, I’m seeing this same theme everywhere. Jesus was sent to proclaim good news to the poor, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:16-21). People in the Psalms cry out for help against injustice. The early apostles agreed on that priority: “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along” (Gal. 2:10). And of course, hanging out with those on the wrong side of the tracks was one of Jesus’ favorite ways to get in trouble.
Based on my reading of scripture, if we’re not engaged in serving the least of these, we’re not connecting to the heart of God. As our church has been engaged in been engaged in trying to follow Jesus in this way, we’ve found ourselves working in transition homes, with people in recovery, and with people on parole. We’re not doing everything, but we’re doing something.
How willing are we, the church, to follow Jesus’ footsteps? How seriously are we taking the injunction to serve the least of these? The least of these are not just the financially poor, but the socially outcast, the hurting and the disenfranchised… anyone out of the mainstream. The poor are those most responsive to the gospel. It has always been that way historically.
This last point, you may notice, relates directly to church planting. How many church plants target healthy young families—preferably tithing ones—as opposed to AIDs victims, illegal immigrants, gays, homeless people, runaway teens, addicts, prostitutes, pimps, prisoners, and sex offenders who must live outside the city limits.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to touch anyone. And who was most receptive to him? Lepers, women, uneducated fishermen, the diseased, the blind, prostitutes, tax collectors, the racial minority Samaritans, and those who had to stay outside the temple walls because they were unclean. These are the people Jesus went to and these were the people most receptive to him.
What about us? Who are we going to?