Redemptive Poverty Work: Transforming Urban Communities Through Faith with Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders

Thank you for joining us at the unSeminary podcast. We’re excited to have Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders from World Impact with us. This organization comes alongside church leaders and offers training and support designed for the urban context.

The American Church has devalued the urban space, either fearing it or viewing it as something to avoid. Church leaders in urban neighborhoods struggle to sustain ministry impact and growth because they don’t have the training needed to build healthy churches in communities of diversity and poverty. Tune in as Dr. Sanders offers resources to help with the critical work of supporting urban church leaders and communities grappling with poverty.

  • What is urban? // The sociological definition of “urban” involves the three D’s: the diversity of the people, density with more people in smaller spaces, and distance, meaning how we view time and space. Condense all three of those things together and it creates the specific view of the world you live in. The codified evangelical definition of “urban” is black, brown, poor. However, that’s not necessarily what urban is. Whether you understand what urban really is or not, or live in an urban area, it still affects your world and your church.
  • Cities spread influence. // In the New Testament Paul planted churches in the major cities because he knew the gospel message would trickle into the countryside from these cultural epicenters. Cities influence everything and so we need to pay attention to urban trends there. If we want to know what suburban and rural ministry is going to look like 10 or 15 years from now, we need to look at what the urban pastors are dealing with today. We will have to engage those cultural values, attitudes, and beliefs and build theologies and do practical ministry around them.
  • Reach out to impoverished neighborhoods. // Poverty isn’t only in urban centers, it’s in suburban and rural contexts too. When churches want to help make the lives of the impoverished better, they need to move into the neighborhood. This is where World Impact steps in to help and equip churches to engage in redemptive poverty work.
  • Redemptive poverty work. // There are three ways we work in the world. The exploitative way produces work that often does more harm than good, even if it’s well intentioned. The ethical way is focused on the relationship between the person who’s wanting to bring the help and the recipients, and there’s often an exchange of material goods. However, impoverished people have a need that goes beyond material assistance. Just like churched people, they are hungry for relationship and belonging. This is where the concept of redemptive poverty work comes into play—a holistic approach that seeks to address both the spiritual and physical needs of individuals.
  • Learn what their needs are. // It’s important to know who you’re dealing with in poverty in the United States. The majority of people in poverty are working, with the biggest segment being the single mother with kids. Their jobs simply don’t provide enough to cover their situation. Find out the actual needs of a neighborhood, as well as its assets and potential, with the Asset-Based Community Development Institute at DePaul University in Chicago. Their website provides resources and tools that will aid in doing an asset mapping of a neighborhood in order to see what the needs and strengths are.
  • Additional resources. // Dr. Sanders wrote a booklet called Redemptive Poverty Work which gives an overview of healthy poverty work. His other book, Uncommon Church, talks more deeply about issues in urban spaces and community transformation for the common good. Both are available on Amazon.
  • Take responsibility. // As Christians and church leaders, we have a responsibility to care for the poor. This is not just a social mandate but a theological one. When Jesus talks about the poor always being with us he’s making reference to Deuteronomy 15, which outlines how to care for people in poverty. Caring for the poor is truly a mark of the gospel.

To learn more about World Impact and get involved, visit www.worldimpact.org and connect with Dr. Sanders on LinkedIn.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey, friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you, and today is no exception. Super excited to have and Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders with us today. He’s with an organization called World Impact. You know, many leaders struggle to sustain ministry impact and growth in urban neighborhoods because they don’t know ah because they don’t have the training that they need. World Impact comes alongside church leaders and offers training, support, designed for the urban context. They empower leaders to build healthy churches in communities of diversity and poverty. When urban church leaders are empowered to own their own ministries, individuals, families, and neighborhoods – they flourish because of that. So we’re super honored to have you on the show today, Dr. Sanders. Welcome – so glad you’re here.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Rich Birch — Yeah, this is going to be great. I we I was saying we just bumped into each other or each other’s organizations last week at at Exponential, and so glad to get to face-to-face. Fill out the picture; tell us a little bit more about World Impact. Help us understand ah the work that you do.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah, so World Impact started in 1971 and it’s been several things over the over the different decades. But for this iteration of World Impact we focus on the problem that 95% of the world’s pastors have no formal ministry training. Ah, they minister in typically communities experiencing poverty. Smaller congregations, about 50 or so folk, and budgets of under $50,000. So we try to be a solution for them by providing accessible, affordable, and effective ministry training. Because we have a we have a ah theory of change that says that trained urban pastors and congregations lead to healthy urban churches which leads to community engagement which leads to flourishing neighborhoods.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — We focus on. um large metropolitan cities within the United States because we believe if you reach the cities of United States, you reach the world.

Rich Birch — So true.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So for instance, if we train in Dallas we know without us lifting a finger that training is going to go to Mexico and it’s going to go to Central America. And as that training goes there. We support the grassroots leaders to take it.

Rich Birch — Um, love it. Dude, that’s so good. I love um, you know, there’s a lot to unpack there. But I I’m really looking forward to hearing more and learning. And I think, you know, if I can be completely honest, I think this is an area that there’s lots of folks that are leaning in. And are saying yeah you know I don’t feel equipped. I don’t I feel like we might be engaging with ah you know some urban leaders, some folks in in context that are maybe struggling with poverty, and we might not be engaging in a way that’s ultimately helpful. And so I want to hear from you around, you know, if you think about the church leaders that are listening in, help us frame this ah issue, help us understand um how we should be thinking about helping churches in these contexts or helping leaders in this in these contexts.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yes, so I think it’s always great to start with understanding what we mean by the word urban.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So I’m gonna talk you a little bit first the sociological definition. Then I’m gonna give you the codified evangelical definition. All right? So, the sociological definition is ah three D’s, right? So when we’re talking about our urban space, we’re talking about the diversity of the people. So most cities ought, well not most, all cities you’re going to find different flavors of folk…

Rich Birch — Absolutely.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …different races, different social classes, so forth and so on. The other D is density. There’s gonna be a lot of people packed into smaller geographic spaces. So that also affects how we view things and how we interact and live our lives. And then the third D is distance meaning how we view time and space. So for instance, World Impact is ah headquartered in Los Angeles.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — When you and I but I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. So when you ask somebody in Cincinnati, you know, how far is it to point a to point b they’re gonna say, oh 20 minutes. If you ask somebody in Los Angeles, how far is it from point a to b, you’re going to say, with traffic…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders —…then they’re going to tell you, right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders —So you you condense all these three things together and creates this specific type of way of how we view the world we live in. Now the codified evangelical definition of urban is black, brown, poor. When the typical evangelical says, oh I live in a urban space, that’s kind of what they’re talking about.

Rich Birch — Okay, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders —Um which it but that’s not necessarily what urban is.

Rich Birch — No. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — But the but the big thing that that the typical Christian needs to understand is that whether you embrace it or understand it or not, the urban space affects your world.

Rich Birch — Absolutely.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Doesn’t matter if you live in the suburbs. Don’t matter if you live in the cornfields. it affects your world. There’s a saying that um when when the city sneezes the suburbs and rural areas catch a cold.

Rich Birch — No, it’s true.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Because, yeah, what happens in the city affects your church regardless of where it’s at, and affects your your your people in your congregations. If you want to know what suburban and rural ministry is going to look like 10, 15 years from now, look at what the urban pastors are dealing with today.

Rich Birch — Love that. I, you know, I I um I’m years ago twenty years ago I remember hearing a mentor of mine talk about this exact issue issue. And he said you know culture emanates from the urban to suburban, and from the west coast to the wast coast. And so you know if you’re looking for, and I don’t know is that true? That that resonated as true. I think all the centers that you’re talking about are cultural epicenters. They’re, you know, the the kind of places where culture emanates from. And so obviously we want to be thinking about them um and really leading in those environments to help under you know to help ultimately inject Jesus into the middle of that. Dig a little bit deeper on that. Help us understand more why it’s important for us to think carefully about those 3 D’s, particularly when it comes to urban ministry.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah, well I mean first off if we if we look at the scriptures, it wasn’t a coincidence that Paul and his missionary journeys planted churches…

Rich Birch — In cities.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …in urban mega-cities, metros. Because Paul knew that if the gospel could take root in these major routes of trade, these major cities of influence, the gospel would trickle out to the countryside. I think one of the travesties of the American Church is that it has devalued the urban space criminally. Because of the codification…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …of well, that’s black and brown poor folk. And unfortunately, you know, in the capitalized society that cap or the capitalism society, I should say, we live in unfortunately those who who have not in terms of finances aren’t looked upon to be leaders in that space.

Rich Birch — Okay, you’re being you’re being too nice there. I feel like you’re being too nice. You’re talking about devaluing. Unpack that more. What what what do you mean by that? You know, stop using polite language. You know, but or leaders here. Help us understand this.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah well well yeah well I mean it’s that polite. Is just it’s what’s happened. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s it’s it’s what happens.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Well, ah, you know, when you know when I graduated from seminary…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …Um I went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Um, you know, most of the graduates that I graduated with or whatever, they weren’t looking to do anything in the urban space. I was one of the few that was looking to do things in the urban space.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Um, and I’m talking about the school as a whole. Now I actually went through a specialized urban ministry training program. And all of us were urban folk. But every now and then we would have to matriculate to the main campus. Um, but the but the reality was most folk just didn’t think in they did not it. It gets caught up in um, a lot of the social and cultural and political things nowadays. But the reality is if you if you look at things such as sociological phenomena, such as white flight, like when when folk ah from from um who are from the white the brothers of the lighter hue, I like to say. How’s that for polite?

Rich Birch — I like that. I like that.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Brothers brothers and sisters of the lighter hue um…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …fled to the suburbs.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — But there’s also been black flight and there’s also been brown flight. So suburbs have just naturally, it’s just naturally assumed that the suburban location is more valuable and that’s where you want to be.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — But the funny thing is, that’s not what influences the world.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — The suburbs do not influence the world.

Rich Birch — No, true.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I mean we’re talking about I’m ah um, a I’m 54. I’m a child of classic hip hop, right? Hip hop turned fifty this year. It’s one of the largest musical forms ever invented…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …in terms of influence. It started in the ghettos of the Bronx.

Rich Birch — Right, right. You mean that didn’t come from Orange County, California. It didn’t come from… of course not, of course not.es.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So it did not. It did not. Those orange county those orange county kids were emulating…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …the values, attitudes, beliefs expressed through the idiom of hip hop music…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …that came straight from the city.

Rich Birch — Yep, absolutely.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — but the reality is the City influences everything.

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And folk folk have been conditioned to be scared of the city. Or it’s a bad thing to be in the city. Now that trend is reversing through ah a word I’ll use a word called gentrification. And gentrification is essentially taking these urban core neighborhoods and they’re being repurposed and they’re being invested in heavily. So an old factory for instance, becomes loss to live in.

Rich Birch — Yep, right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So that’s all the latest craze. That’s all the latest trend. And so now folk of the lighter hue are now moving back in, and other folk are moving back in. So so that’s good and bad. We won’t get in all that. But um but but the whole point is this – that’s what I mean by undervalue. Regardless of where you minister at…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …you need to pay attention to urban trends and what’s happening because that’s the values, attitudes, and beliefs of culture that you’re going to have to engage.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — You’re going to have to build theologies around. You’re going to have to figure out how to do practical ministry around.

Rich Birch — Yeah, for sure.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So that’s what I mean by undervalued.

Rich Birch — Well yeah, and I’ve said in other contexts, every zip code in the country is more diverse now than it was ten years ago and will be more diverse ten years from now than it is um today.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Exactly right.

Rich Birch — And and um, which is a wonderful thing. Like that’s um, yeah, that’s ah, that’s a very good thing. And but I do feel like we’re oftentimes I remember when so I was thinking about school when you mentioned it. I I help on a lot of church growth stuff. And I only I had like one class in a whole course on church growth. And it was on the homogeneous unit approach to to church growth.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Oh yeah – HUP.

Rich Birch — Which is a terrible idea. like and is like is like an anti-Jesus idea. But it was like it that was the only thing I learned about church growth, was like go find a whole bunch of people, and ironically it was go find a whole bunch of rich, white people that was, although that was never said, that was what I was kind of the undercurrent of that idea. Um, so when you think about helping church leaders, whether they’re in a suburban, urban, rural context, to understand how to work in the urban urban communities or to support how, how does World Impact fit into that equation? What what are you guys doing on that front?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So we we focus on, we have a particular for philosophy um of how it undergoes all of our programmings. And we focus specifically though on churches that are ministering in communities experiencing poverty.

Rich Birch — Okay, yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And you will find poverty, it’s, you know, it’s not only in urban centers.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It is in suburban context. It is in rural context. So we can help churches who have a desire to want to to make people’s lives ah better, and and sort of have um what I would say Jesus move into the into the neighborhood, so to speak. You know, John 1:14 the Message translation the bible says “the word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood”.

Rich Birch — Love that. Yeah, that’s so good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I love that phrasing because I believe that’s what a church is supposed to do for its neighborhood and its community. It’s supposed to move into the neighborhood. So then how does the church, Christians, move into the neighborhood, so to speak, when the neighborhood is impoverished. That’s World Impact’s forté and specialty.

Rich Birch — So what does that? What does that look like? I think how how are you helping the church do that, empowering the church to to move into ah, into into a neighborhood, when when they’re you know it’s a community that’s experiencing poverty?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah. So I think um, it’s good to for folk to be reflective here of how we sort of work in the world. And I got this thing called the redemptive frame from a group called Praxis which talks about three ways that we work in the world. And then I could talk specifically about how that applies to redemptive poverty work.

Rich Birch — Sure Yeah, that’s great.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So one way is we work in the world as a human, and when I say we I’m talking about as human beings. There’s an exploitative way that we work…

Rich Birch — Okay.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …in the world. The exploitative way produces work that often does more harm than good. It it may be well intentioned, but it fails to properly understand the complexity of poverty, and consciously or subconsciously we put our own motives above the long term impact on people that we may be having. So I’ve never heard a Christian say I want to go and I want to exploit people in poverty. I’ve never heard him by say that, right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — That’s my goal. I want to exploit them.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Now there are other entities and institutions that exploit folk. But from…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that would say that.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah, but from the Christian perspective, everybody wants to be a do-gooder. They want to do the best they can and they want to change the people’s world around them. But the reality is we are sinful human beings and there’s nothing we need to do to be exploiters. And unless we intentionally look at the track and how we’re going to engage folk, we’re going to exploit them.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So for instance, most people would want to… when I was pastoring and I used to be an inner city pastor and Cincinnati and like um, from like Thanksgiving to Christmas, all the suburban churches would call me. They want to do stuff. They want to serve Thanksgiving dinner. They want to do this. They want to do that. And um, the rest of the months nobody hear from nobody, and hear from anybody.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And it’s like, that’s kind of a form of exploitation because you’re coming down here because you want to serve somebody dinner. You…

Rich Birch — Yeah, you want the good feelings of feeling of serving. Yeah, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Exactly right. You want to give a gift, and things of that nature. And when I would say well, you know what? we don’t really need another Thanksgiving dinner. We don’t really need toys. What we need is, boy, if you send an army of people to help tutor the kids in this local elementary school that um that we’re working with, that’d be awesome.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders —You know stuff like that. Things that were gonna make real life change. So, exploitative is the one way that we work in the world. But another way that we work in the world is if if we’ve evolved to a better place, it’s a ethical way. And when we have them ethical mindset it’s a step in the right direction. It’s focused on the relationship between the person who’s wanting you to bring the help, and the recipients, whenever possible. I mean in this mindset it’s not it’s no longer about us. But it’s our desire to do good, and it’s like a win-win situation. So you’re not coming in, you may come in from a um and in a in a different power dynamic in terms of I’m coming in. I have resources, I’m going to give you resources. But at the very least you want to see ah the people in the neighborhoods do better, and you acknowledge the agency of the people in a neighborhood…

Rich Birch — Yep yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …to contribute to their own ah wellbeing and well good to break the cycle of of generational poverty. And the ethical mindset is a awesome mindset. It is the way that we want everyone to operate. You don’t necessarily have to be Christian to operate with a ethical mindset.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — You know the ethical mindset example is this is the the the church that ah sets up a food pantry, right? There are people who are hungry. Ah, we want those people to eat. So we’re going to help folk who don’t have enough to eat. And we’re going to give them food. And we’re going to give them food ah based on the fact that that’s a need. Ah, it’s It’s typically along the lines of some sort of temporary relief in exchange of material goods. And there’s necessarily there’s not any necessarily anything wrong with that. Um, the problem is that the majority of people who are living in poverty are not people who need relief though. That’s not their main need. Their main need is relationship.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — We just did a a study with Barna Group called Inside the Urban Church and the most fascinating thing around that study was that both the churched and the unchurched folks said they’d look to the church to do the same thing, and that was, “I’m lonely; help me belong to something.”

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So it wasn’t the things that we thought. You know was it, Oh they hey appreciate the food pantry. They appreciate all the other stuff, but they said the unchurched are literally saying, if you want to help me, help me be less lonely, right?

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Which leads to what what we believe at World Impact of what we try to help and why we focus on the local church so much is that is redemptive poverty work. Because redemptive poverty work is focusing on the life pattern of Jesus Christ which was um…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …creative restoration through life sacrifice. So Jesus says, I sacrifice, we win. Regardless of how you respond to me I’m going to come in. I’m going to do life on life ministry. I’m going to help you navigate this thing called life as best I possibly can. And I’m going to help you come to a better place. And hopefully by me doing that, I have earned the right to share the gospel with you.

Rich Birch — So good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I have earned the right to disciple you.

Rich Birch — So good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So so so relationally speaking in terms of doing that type of poverty work, that’s where you’re going to make a significant change. It’s the mentoring or the coaching of a kid for 5, 10 years, right?

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It’s the um helping ah start and a nonprofit or an organization that is going to help people become more job ready. It’s it’s basically things that are relationship-based and long-term that’s sort of the redemptive thought of doing poverty work.

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally. Love it. Well and that’s a, well first of all I love that framework. What a helpful framework work of exploitative, ethical, and redemptive. Man, there’s a lot there. But I that’s um thanks for doing the work of even just helping us kind of understand that piece that together, you know there’s a there’s a shorthand thing I’m picking up there. Like if, man, if my church is engaged in working with a church um or with another group in a situation of poverty, whether that’s you know in an urban center or around the world, and there’s not a relationship there… it’s it’s like I’m just showing up and dumping resources dumping people. It’s the stereotypical you know like we send kids on a missions trip to Guatemala to like build some house that they’re not looking for. And take away local employment. Like it’s that kind of thing.

Rich Birch — If we’re, if what I hear you saying is, man, if there isn’t someone ah in this leadership pipeline of how you’re developing this relationship that’s sitting down with other people to actually ask, hey, how can we work together. What can we do? How do we how do we um, How do we develop an actual relationship rather than ah, you know, um, an exploitative um one-sided thing. Man, then that’s ah, that’s a telltale sign that things are maybe going in, you know, incorrectly.

Rich Birch — How can we as church leaders build those relationships? What’s that look like? How do we how do we engage… like let’s say we’re a church that’s like we want to do more in this area. We we are self-assessed. We’re not doing a good job on this. We’re we’re too much in the suburbs or maybe we’re an urban church and we’re not engaging in it with poor folks that are, you know, we hire police to move poor people off our front porch. That’s all we do. That’s how we engage with poor people. We don’t want to do that anymore. We want to figure out a way to actually do this well. What would be some of those steps? How could we move through ethical and then ultimately to redemptive?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yes, so um, I’ll give some context and then I’m going to give a resource.

Rich Birch — Um, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So um, the thing to understand about poverty within the United States is that most of those who are in poverty are working.

Rich Birch — Okay. Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Most people when they think about folk in poverty, they think it’s the homeless person on the street. That’s just a segment.

Rich Birch — Right. Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Most of the the face of poverty in America is a single mother who has a service industry job.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It’s the maid at the hotel.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It’s the it’s the it’s the Burger King worker. I used to say instead of Soccer Moms, it’s Burger King Moms. They’re working at Burger King.

Rich Birch — Yeah, right, right. That’s good. Yeah yeah, yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — But their their work that’s the the largest segment is a single mother with kids. And they’re doing the best that they can, but the job that they’re working at just does not give them enough money to cover their situation. So the first thing is to understand who we’re actually dealing with if we’re talking about those in poverty within the United States. Most of the services that are set up for folk in poverty within the United States, it’s it’s kind of ironic in that like if you’re like here in Cincinnati, like if you’re homeless, there’s more services for you…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …than if you like have a job and just can’t make ends meet.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So you’re missing the whole entire major segment of the population that actually needs your help. Okay?

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So so how do we find out their needs? There’s this great tool called um, and it’s easy to understand – it’s abcd. It’s called asset-based community development. There’s a ABCD Institute at a DePaul University in Chicago. And they have a whole gamut of resources that you can utilize in order to what they call do a asset mapping of your of your neighborhood…

Rich Birch — Okay, that’s cool.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …to see where the the needs are of the neighborhood. I actually did ah a my my thesis coming out of Trinity was how to use asset based community development to plant a church. And that’s what I actually did. I I studied it. I studied the philosophy. I asked it I ah sort of charted out the neighborhood.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I seen what the neighborhood needed. And then I started working and volunteering at a place that was filling that need. And then out of that, after after winning people to the Lord, this, that and the other, I built the actual church.

Rich Birch — Ah, very cool.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And that church is still very connected to the neighborhood. It’s still functioning, I no longer pastor it, but it’s still functioning twenty-four years later.

Rich Birch — That’s great.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — So and it so it was a win-win.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It was a it was a um life on life. It was a a redemptive way. I said what’s the way that we can move into the neighborhood? That we can redeem this neighborhood without coming in with my own preconceived ideas? So did the hard work of utilizing this tool. And I guarantee that any church that uses asset based community development will hit the true need of those in the neighborhood that are experiencing poverty.

Rich Birch — Very cool. Well that’s I love that. So yeah, you can find that. You can search for ABCD Institute, DePaul University if you’re looking for more information on that. That’s that’s fantastic. Now I know you actually have a couple resources too. You’re a humble guy so you didn’t go to your own resources. You have a couple resources you’ve put together to help ah you know church leaders to kind of help frame this conversation. You know, we’re just scratching the surface today. Talk us through these resources. Tell us tell us about these.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yes. Yeah. So there’s two that that could be very helpful to you. One is I wrote a very small booklet called Redemptive Poverty Work which talks more in-deptly about what I just shared here. Um, it’s a small booklet you can read it over a lunch break. Um so you can get it off of Amazon. It’s like five bucks, but it’s called Redemptive Poverty Work.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — The other more in-depth book that talks about the issues that I talked about is called Uncommon Church. I wrote that book in 2020 and it’s ah it’s a reflection on my over 30 years of work in urban spaces. It talks about the higher level issues of institutional oppression and things of that nature. Um, because the first half of the book talks about vibrant church in the urban space. The second half of the book talks about the institutional forces and things of that nature which shape the urban environment and how the church can address it. So that’s called Uncommon Church that’s on Amazon as well.

Rich Birch — Love it. Yeah, ah, fantastic. Both these resources I would, and we’ll put links to these in the show notes, friends. I think, you know, my encouragement to you would be to pick up one or both of these resources. As you know if you’re a church leader that’s like hey. This is something you feel like maybe we’re scratching something that you need to be thinking more about, I would strongly recommend that you start here. This could be a great resource to kind of start the conversation for you in your, you know, in your leadership circle.

Rich Birch —So you know Dr. Sanders there may be people that are listening in who let me play the devil’s advocate. And I use that that word very pointedly. Like that’s the way I’m I’m intending that. You know that that hear this conversation like what I heard you describe as what I’ve heard in other contexts described as the working poor, you know, ah, but the the Burger King moms. That’s a that’s a great, that’s a very vivid example of that. To me that’s like the um, that’s the grinding part of a capitalist society. That’s what I said. You didn’t say that. I said that. That’s the part of where capital is is um…

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yes.

Rich Birch — …is taking advantage, frankly of of people with very little power. And there may be people that are listening in today that hear me say something like that, or hear us even ask a question like that and that just gets them fired up and pissed off because they’re like wait a second. What are you are you questioning that the kind of the capitalist approach to life? How how do you respond to that. How do you um respond to a leader who, you know, is genuinely asking that they’re not just trying to pick a fight with you. They’re like, hey they’re coming from a you know, ah, they’re not just trying to, they’re just trying to you know kick you, but they are they actually want to have that conversation. How would you respond to them in that situation?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Well I would say to realize that there’s three main ways in which um capitals dealt with, in terms of manmade economic system, there’s that’s capitalism, there’s socialism, and then there’s communism. And all three of them are severely flawed and are are sinful. I mean you just have to understand it. None of them are God – God didn’t create any of them.

Rich Birch — Yes, right.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — God created the kingdom of God.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And if we truly follow Matthew 5 through 7, right?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Which is the if we really look at Matthew 5 through 7 and you really take it for what it’s worth, it’s one of the most radical things of how to live that’s ever been created.

Rich Birch — So true.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — It’s it’s the it’s the it’s the longest sermon that we have from Jesus. I make it a practice to read at least once a week to remind myself of how how what the kingdom God truly looks like and what it is. And the kingdom of God is about people more than it is is about capital. And the I talk about this more in in my book Uncommon Church, but basically our role as Christians is to is number one to take responsibility for those who are in poverty. It is not an option to…

Rich Birch — The poor will always be among us.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — There you go. And that was a reference to Deuteronomy 15 people say oh well Jesus says the poor is all going to be among you so that means we don’t have to worry about them. No, it was actually a reference to Deuteronomy 15.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — And do to write guess what Deuteronomy 15 is about? How to take care of those in poverty. So what Jesus was basically saying is, look if you’re Christian, what did Jesus say to John the baptist… Or John the Baptist was in jail and John the baptist was getting ready to get beheaded. And so he sent his followers to Jesus. Because he’s like look, man, getting ready to lose my life. Are you really the Christ? And one of the criteria that Jesus said and sent back is the work that he did amongst the poor was one of the marks of him being the Messiah

Rich Birch — Amen. Yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Matthew 25—now you got me preaching…

Rich Birch — It’s good. It’s good. Dude, come on, come on. It’s good.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — But Matthew 25, he talks about this that separate the wheat from you know the the great separation. It’s going to happen of who truly was for Christ and who truly isn’t for Christ. And one of the marks of the people that are truly for Christ he’s goes when when I was hungry, you fed me. And he talks about other things about taking care of the poor taking care of the poor is a mark of the gospel.

Rich Birch — Yes, come on.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — The buzzword of what is the Gospel. A mark of the gospel is that you take time, talent, and treasure, and you take care of those in poverty.

Rich Birch — Amen. Amen. Dude, that’s so true.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Okay, okay, yeah, Communist, capitalist – doesn’t matter.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — You’re a kingdom of God citizen; you take responsibility for doing your role and playing your part and taking care of those who are in poverty.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. Dude, what a great, that’s fantastic. And I love your your frame there around no political system was ordained by God. Like these are all, you know, against, you know, in some ways you know, they they can be used by him. He supersedes all of them. Like I…

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yes.

Rich Birch — You know, I think that is just that’s what a great word. I you know, I had a friend, you know, recently in the last couple years say, man did we did we miss the point of Acts 6? You know the the early apostles are like, hey we’re not feeding these these women…

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yep.

Rich Birch — …and are and are the poor and so let’s get some deacons. And we read that as that’s not important. So let’s get some other people because we’re dedicated to the acts of you know preaching. And they’re like that’s not actually what’s happening here. It’s the up it’s the exact opposite of that.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Exactly right.

Rich Birch — The early church fathers are like this is so important that we do not want to drop this ball. We we have to do this. We have to. Which that has become perverted here I think in some of our circles two thousand years later, where it’s like well just give that to some other people that’s not that important. No-no. That my experience would be the same as what you’re saying. That churches where the message of Jesus is being proclaimed, the poor are being cared for. Those two things are inextricably linked. That ultimately, you can’t you can’t pull those 2 apart from each other. If if you look around and your church is not caring for the poor, I would say you’re not actually presenting the gospel. You’re not, you’re not actually pointing people back to Jesus. Um man this has been a rich conversation today.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah, there’s. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Um, I so I’m going to give you the last word. As we wrap up, we’ll link to those resources. Ah, what would you say what would your kind of final encouragement be to church leaders who are are listening in today?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I would say that ah any person or any church that decides to go on a journey of following Christ, which if you remember when Jesus announced his ministry, he he announced it as preaching the good news to those in poverty. And we have a we have a way of trying to super spiritualize that. Oh he means the poor in spirit. No. He means those who are financially without. Jesus literally said the Spirit is a Lord is upon me the preach of good news to the to those who are in poverty, essentially. Right? In financially poverty, in financial poverty even…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — …if I didn’t necessarily get the exact quote right. You get the point.

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — If we follow Jesus down that path, we’re going to see the Holy Spirit show up in ways we’ve never, you’ve never seen Him before.

Rich Birch — Absolutely.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — I’ve never, I mean if you said, Alvin, give me a testimony of how you seen God move. More times than not it’s gonna it’s gonna involve me, either personally or when I pastored church, helping someone or helping a community that was experiencing poverty. If you want to guarantee that the Holy Spirit is going to show up, get involved in the lives and the hearts of those who are experiencing poverty.

Rich Birch — What a great word to end on. That’s that’s fantastic. Dr. Sanders, I really appreciate you being here today. Where do we want to send people online if they want to connect with you, or with World Impact? Where’s the best place for us to to point them to?

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — Yeah, so if you want to connect with me, um I am on LinkedIn. So you can just type in “Alvin Sanders World Impact” and I’ll pop up. That’s where I sort of keep a work diary and engage people um online. Um, and then the other thing is if you want to learn more about World Impact. You can go to worldimpact.org and go to our website. And hopefully um, you’ll see something on there that we can help you and steer you in the right direction.

Rich Birch — Thanks so much. Appreciate being here today, sir.

Rev. Dr. Alvin Sanders — All right. Thank you for having me.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.