Viv Grigg has spent his life among the poor and recruits many others to do the same. One would think he would be insistent on everyone relocating to a poor village. Instead he talks about God’s calling. In his first book, Companion to the Poor, he writes about commitment without total identification.
People often ask “Were you called to minister to the poor?” We are all called to minister to the poor. Such a ministry is the logical obedience of any disciple imitating the attitudes, character and teaching of Jesus. He commands everyone to renounce all (Luke 14:33), to give to the poor and live simply. But we would need a special call to minister primarily to the rich or middle-class, for the focus of Christian ministry is ‘good news to the poor.’
Not all, however, are called to a life of total identification with the poor by living among them!
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha are examples of the middle-class of Israel. They had a large home, kept it, and used it for the Lord and his disciples as a retreat center.
I have not discerned God calling many of my middle-class friends to lives of identification with the poor. Some heard and refused his call, but in general, the Lord seemed to be calling them to a ministry among their middle-class peers. To expect them to choose identification with the poor was to expect them to become apostles and missionaries across a great social, economic, and cultural barrier.
Nevertheless, like Lazarus, Mary and Martha, the middle-class can have a significant commitment to the poor.
By the time he wrote his second book, Cry of the Urban Poor, Viv Grigg was recruiting missionaries from all around the world to live among the poor. He has a passion for urban ministry but again he writes:
As Christians, we must encourage all people in all levels of society to have a focus of ministry to the poor. This does not imply that all should live among the poor.
We must call all people in all levels of society to lives of simplicity so that others may simply live. This does not imply that all should live among the poor. We must call all to the patterns of renunciation that we see in Jesus’ teaching. This does not imply that all should live among the poor.
But we must also hold out to people the further call of Jesus for many to take up an apostolic lifestyle of identification with the poor in order that the poor people’s church might be established.
In Companion of the Poor, Viv Grigg continues this line of reasoning.
Over the years, my hall of fame has grown to include the lives of Calvin, Finney, Booth, Wesley, Assisi, Xavier, Mother Teresa, and many others committed to the poor.
There are marked differences in the lives of these people. Yet all understood the centrality of preaching. And all understood the necessity of focusing on the poor as a priority.
Kagawa, Assisi, and Xavier lived as poor men among the poor. Booth, Wesley and Calvin chose simple lifestyles. All moved from lives as pure evangelists to become evangelistic social reformers: fighters against sin and fighters against poverty and social injustice at every level of society.
St. Francis of Assisi himself set up a ‘third order’ for those who wanted to work for the poor but could not live a life of poverty with him. Bernard Christensen in the book, The Inward Pilgrimage, shares an account from The Little Flowers, a book about the life of Assisi.
In a village where he (St. Francis of Assisi) first preached, his message was so well received that all the people wanted to join the order; but Francis told them not to decide too quickly, and in his mind he began to plan the organization of a Third Order to be made up entirely of lay people who continued in their regular callings but still followed certain religious devotions and services ‘for the salvation of all people everywhere’. Thieves and robbers joined the order because he dared to treat them as people.
Viv Grigg closes his argument in Companion To the Poor with a challenge for us to live by. He writes:
One day I was sitting relaxing with some middle-class friends eating ice-cream. The Lord brought to mind the passage immediately preceding His call to renunciation. Jesus said,
‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your …rich neighbors…But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.’ (Luke 14:12-14)
We are to enjoy life, but with and for the poor and needy. We are to die to our economic selves, but we are to live glorious economic resurrection lives for others.
My message to the middle-class could be summed up by the following five slogans: Earn much, Consume little, Hoard nothing, Give generously and Celebrate life.