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We need a 'church for the poor' - but let's not forget the rich either

Those who are super-wealthy need the gospel as much as anyone else, says Jonny Rose

Recently, much has been said about the UK Church's need to rededicate itself to the plight of the poor.

The Bishop of Burnley last week accused the Church of deserting the nation’s poor and working class. And Natalie Williams, author of A Church for the Poor, has spoken eloquently on Premier Christian Radio about how modern evangelicals are so middle-class they risk ostracising believers from poorer backgrounds. There's also been a debate over whether its right that top Christian footballer Neymar should earn £515,000 a week. 

The theme of justice and mercy towards the poor runs consistently throughout Scripture, with Jesus bringing it to a head when he says, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

However, in our zeal to meet the needs of 'the least of these', I fear we may be at risk of missional myopia - and ignoring those at the other end of the economic spectrum.

The burden of being affluent

"Mo’ money, mo’ problems". So goes the title of one of the most popular hip-hop songs of the 90s. Despite the somewhat insalubrious origins of the statement, there is much truth in it.

Being rich ain't easy. Indeed, Jesus himself warned of the particular burden of being affluent: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".

See, the rich have their own very real problems. The affluent worry about kidnapping, lawsuits, poisoning, fraud, exploitation, and more. Then there is the spiritual rot that comes with relentless acquisitiveness and the "love of money". Despite the gilded lifestyle afforded by their riches, many of them are simply miserable.

The children of the wealthy - so-called 'rich kids' that are often lampooned as being unconcerned airheads with little grip on the travails of real life - have their own worries: they suffer anxiety and depression at twice the rate of less well-off peers, and eating disorders, neuroses and self-harm is soaring among this demographic.

Even if the affluent really do have the most perfect, untroubled existence imaginable: they still need Jesus.

A Church for the rich

For Christians, our positive concern for social justice coupled with the negative political and media portrayals of the rich can often lead to a more benign version of 'class war' toward people with significant wealth.

It is easy for us in the pews to assume that 'the rich' are an abstract idea that represents systemic injustice rather than to remember that this population consists of millions of individuals loved by God.

The super-rich are not as en vogue as the poor.

I suspect, if we’re being honest, many of us are even envious of the super-rich. There is a suspicion that they received their wealth at the expense of others and are therefore worthy of a justified (and even righteous) contempt.

Which is exactly the attitude Jesus warned us of.

Where are the ministries that focus on the super-rich?

When Christ is seen eating with "sinners and tax collectors" (the modern corollary would be befriending 'fat cats', bankers and 'trust fund kids') this caused not a little scandal among the Pharisees. And why does Jesus choose such dubious company? "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick...for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Mark 2:17)

There are hundreds - if not thousands - of ministries in the UK with a focus on the poor; soup kitchens, debt relief agencies, homeless shelters, childcare provision, job clubs. Where are the ministries that focus on the super-rich?

So, what does it look like to 'not forget the super-rich'?

  • Firstly, a change in our own hearts towards how we think, speak of, and view the affluent. They aren’t just a monolithic bloc to simply rail against in a biblical pursuit of justice or ignore because ministry to the poor is so noble and en vogue. They are all humans in need of the Good News - every bit as much as the homeless and the unemployed.
  • Secondly, pray for them. You may never meet these economic elites in your day-to-day lives but your prayers transcend societal barriers. Pray for the super-rich, in the same way we are called to pray for our governmental leaders. Pray that they make wise decisions, that they become good stewards and that their wealth does not consume them.
  • Thirdly, use the talents and giftings that have been given to us to join their ranks. For some, we will be blessed with the business acumen and social means to move alongside the super-rich
  • And, lastly, befriend, serve and minister to them. I doubt many of us will become 'high net worth individuals' in this lifetime, however, many of us work for or alongside these people. Whether as cleaners, drivers, janitors, account managers or advisors, let us not be tempted to adopt a posture of 'them and us', but instead seek to treat them like what they are: lost souls, loved by God, who need to hear the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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