By Stan Friedman
DETROIT, MI (June 29, 2013) – Noel Castellanos, who has spent more than 30 years working to develop the economic, spiritual and social status of the poor, believes many Christians need to recalibrate their approach to ministry on behalf of those suffering from poverty.
He shared his observations during Friday evening’s worship service as part of the 128th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church that is drawing to a conclusion this week.
“We have to recalibrate so the poor become the center of everything we do,” Castellanos said. If that change is not made, then the church will miss the opportunity to preach good news.
“We need to begin seeing the poor as the way the Bible sees the poor – as the center of God’s love and concern,” he declared.
Too often churches approach ministry to the poor with the attitude that “the poor are the target of our missionary enterprises,” and great changes will happen “if we “unleash the shock and awe of our resources.”
Castellanos argues that approach fails. “Jesus was preoccupied with the poor – not because they had to be the target, but because they were the center of God’s love and concern,” he added.
Castellanos’ views were shaped as a Mexican born just north of the Mexican American border and then growing up on the margins of society, thinking he was trapped in his situation.
But the cross on which Jesus died, and the location of his death – between two thieves and outside the walls of Jerusalem – only confirmed that the Son of God had been marginalized and identified with the poor.
It was that same Jesus who spoke to him as a young man and said, “Noel, you’re not trapped – you’re called.” He was to be a part of God’s work to redeem not only individuals, but the whole world.
His subsequent 30 years of work have included serving on the board of the Christian Community Development Association for many years and establishing the CCDA Institute, which equips emerging church leaders. He shared with Friday night’s gathering that he had learned over those three decades a different approach to ministry.
The church must incarnate the gospel through proximity and place. “The closer we are to the poor, the closer we are to incarnation,” he said.
It is drawing close to the poor that gives the church the opportunity to proclaim the gospel, Castellanos said. He compared the approach of sporadically preaching the gospel without incarnation to “drive-by evangelism.”
The church must attend to the physical as well as spiritual needs, he says. The best approach is the example of the partnership of Nehemiah and Ezra. Nehemiah rebuilt the walls while Ezra rebuilt the temple.
Finally, he said, the church must pursue justice.
Castellanos’ remarks came on a night when the Covenant commissioned missionaries to go around the world and live among the broken and share the gospel by building, preaching, and doing justice. One of the denomination’s guiding philosophies is to do ministry alongside, and not just for people.
The worship service opened with the parade of flags that represent the countries where the Covenant is engaged in mission and ministry. For the first time since 2010, the Covenant also sent out long-term missionaries.
The evening concluded with communion, both a call to and a sign of life with and for others.