We address poverty by both giving them bread for their bodies and the Bread of Life for their souls.
As I write this I’m traveling home from a Youth Specialties convention that was just held in Dallas, Texas. “YS” (as it’s commonly called) is a youth pastors’ conference that has tons of seminars for youth leaders to help them become more effective at ministering to teenagers. I’ve been teaching at these fabulous events for more than a decade and look forward to it every year.
One of the reasons I love YS is because it’s always a great opportunity to connect with youth pastors of all shapes and stripes. These leaders range from mainline to conservative, small church to large church and rural to urban.
My YS experiences have been defined by laughter, learning and, at times, controversial conversations. It has been a joy to wrestle through tough issues with others who are in the midst of ministering to the next generation.
One of the richest conversations I’ve ever had happened at a YS convention in Pittsburgh four years ago. This dialogue didn’t happen during or immediately after the session I was teaching that weekend. It took place as I walked down the street next to a younger youth leader whom, up to that point, I had never met.
To the best of my memory, the conversation went something like this:
“You’re Greg Stier, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” I replied.
After introducing himself to me and shaking my hand cordially, he shared with me he was from a more liberal stream of the youth ministry world. He then said, “I’ve heard a lot about you in my circle,” with a twinkle in his eye.
“All bad?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” he said with a half smile on his face.
Knowing evangelism (my primary focus in ministry) is not the most popular subject in some youth ministry circles, I asked: “Well, then, you probably already know what I’m about. After all, a guy who leads a ministry called ‘Dare 2 Share’ is not that hard to figure out. So, let me ask you a question … what are you about?”
He replied, “What do you mean?”
“What matters to you? What is your ministry priority? What are you about?” I asked.
He thought for a second and replied,”I’m about the kingdom of God.”
Hard to argue with that. That’s a good thing to be about!
Seeking clarification I asked, “And, from your perspective, what is the kingdom of God about?”
“Taking care of the poor,” was his quick reply.
“Great! I’m all for taking care of the poor,” I affirmed. “But what about the Gospel?” I asked. “Where does that fit in?”
He thought deeply and replied, “That is the Gospel.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He responded: “Well, Jesus fed the poor. The disciples fed the poor. And we are called to feed the poor, and when we feed the poor we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are living the Gospel. That is the Gospel we preach, not with our lips but with our lives. That is the core of the kingdom of God.”
I thought for a second and asked, “Have you ever been poor?” (I could tell this guy had never seen a day of poverty in his life.)
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Have you been poor by American standards? Have you gone without food? Were you raised in a high-poverty area? Have you ever lived on food stamps? Were you raised in a high-crime-rate area? That’s what I mean by poor.” I responded.
“No, I haven’t,” was his honest reply. “Why do you ask?”