Here at the Chalmers Center at Covenant College we’ve long been crafting tools to help churches and ministries discover better ways to love and serve people living in poverty, and through our partnership with the Oikonomia Network, I’m excited to tell you about a few resources we’ve just rolled out to encourage and equip you for the work of ministry.
Earlier this year, Chalmers’ founder and president, Brian Fikkert, published a Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream with his Covenant College colleague, theologian Kelly Kapic (see an excerpt here). Becoming Whole is in some sense a “prequel” to the best-selling When Helping Hurts. It explores further the theological underpinnings of that book, and helps readers discover that truly loving people who are materially poor requires a deep understanding of who God is, who we are and what God is doing in the world.
That book was also meant to also be sort of a “sequel” to When Helping Hurts as well, and that vision comes to fruition in the just-released A Field Guide to Becoming Whole: Principles for Poverty Alleviation Ministries, written concurrently with Becoming Whole. This second volume is particularly geared toward those involved with Christian ministries directly interfacing with people living in poverty. But it has plenty of implications for those working in other spheres (schools, business, policy, etc.) as well.
Anyone who has spent any time thinking about or working toward alleviating poverty knows how easy it is to get overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of the issues involved. Every person is unique. Every community has its own special set of assets and problems.
What distinguishes this Field Guide is its focus on distilling key principles that can apply in any context, rather than advocating any particular “how to” approach. The authors refer to this throughout as a way of “improvising” the wonderful reality of the kingdom of God in all the various places where he has put his people around the world. To that end, the authors try not to lean on their own expertise, but highlight faithful ministry practitioners to provide guidance from biblical, academic and experiential perspectives.
The principles they identify are grouped around addressing five interrelated causes of poverty:
- False gods and erroneous stories of change
- Broken and destructive formative practices
- Broken systems
- Broken people
- A broken spiritual realm (demonic forces)
They also help local churches see themselves as the embodied kingdom community where all these causes encounter God’s vision for solving them.
Practicing the King’s Economy Online Course and Small Group Study
In their 2018 book Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How we Work, Earn, Spend, Save and Give, Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt and Brian Fikkertsought to give readers some big ideas, but also concrete practices to move their hearts away from materialism and toward a richer understanding of their place in God’s kingdom. This summer, the Chalmers Center launched a video-based online course (for individuals, Sunday school or small groups) to introduce the book’s concepts to a wider audience, then draw out applications with discussion-oriented lessons.
Just like the book, the course is organized around six keys to economic discipleship:
- Creation Care
Each of these keys is explored from scripture, and then from contemporary practice with case studies from several ministries around the U.S. who are effectively demonstrating the principles involved.
The goal of the book was to encourage Christians to make caring for poor and marginalized members of their communities part of the fabric of their daily lives as citizens of the kingdom of God and not just a “ministry activity.” This course and study strives to open doors for whole churches and organizations to dive into this conversation together and explore ways that they can shift their work for eternal impact.
Faith & Finances Online Facilitator Certification
Since 2012, thousands of low-income participants and middle-income allies have walked together through a transformative process of relationship-based financial education through the Chalmers Center’s Faith & Finances curriculum. In contrast to many Christian financial literacy products that focus on debt-reduction and wealth-building for middle-class Americans, Faith & Finances is anchored in oral learning and habits and practices that resonate with low-income communities striving to build stability and escape poverty.
This curriculum is not just about the learning, either. It is designed specifically to encourage community and mutual transformation between participants and allies through a 12-week small group format. Everyone who comes to the table is asked to open their hearts (and their account books) as they navigate the complex financial realities of modern America together. Participants learn not just biblically and economically sound financial principles, but also God’s vision for our money – through stewardship and generosity – which applies no matter how much we earn.
Because of the relational nature of the curriculum and the cultural divides that too often separate middle- and low-income communities, Chalmers has always asked facilitators to be trained and certified before offering classes at their church or ministry. This has been offered as a hybrid online and in-person training; as a result, limited, time-bound offerings for training plus the travel cost for the live portion has prevented many potential facilitators from getting certified.
A fully online facilitator certification is now available! It can be started at any time by individuals or groups wishing to begin using Faith & Finances as part of their long-term work alongside their low-income neighbors.