Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Consultant Payne advises churches on poverty ministries


“God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. You have bedded me down
in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.” (Psalm 23:1-4, The Message)


MOORE, Okla. — Language itself can create a barrier to reaching people who seem trapped in poverty, Ruby Payne taught at a seminar that offered insights for church action.

Payne, whose books are “What Every Church Member Should Know About Poverty” and “Bridges Out of Poverty,” spoke to about 230 people on March 15 at Moore-First United Methodist Church. The workshop was offered through the Oklahoma Conference’s Discipleship Ministry Team.

She divided language into four types: formal, consultative, casual, and intimate.

The type of language spoken at church is often formal, which may be difficult for poorer members of a community to understand, said Dr. Payne, of Baytown, Texas. Formal language also is expected at school or work.

People who don’t speak in the formal manner “don’t have the words to resolve an issue,” she said. But churches can be “key players” in helping them.

A growing population of adolescent males who are undereducated and under-resourced experience this difficulty, Payne said. When it comes to work, some of them have the view that “real men don’t push paper.”

She suggested ways to reach members of this group, including use of The Message Bible, which is written in a contemporary style.

She also made more suggestions churches can apply to form connections with impoverished people.

Offer male-only events that include an activity, such as building something. This may improve participation.

Sessions for women benefit when child care is offered. Women place a high priority on safety or belonging, she said.

Plan coffee klatches, where someone brings coffee and someone else brings pastries.

Keep in touch by text. This can include texting Bible verses.

One workshop participant was Jeannie Himes, senior pastor of Norman-St. Stephen’s UMC. She said Payne “is very well-informed about the subject of poverty. A key component is still to place ourselves where we can have one-on-one conversation with people who are struggling in the chain of poverty.”

April Coates, pastor of Ponca City-Asbury and Albright UMCs, said, “I value the Bridges Out of Poverty model because it forces the church to look honestly at its own biases and misconceptions about poverty. It gives us a healthier place from which to enter into conversations with, rather than at or to, families struggling with poverty. I’m hoping to do some intentional education and study with my congregation around Bridges Out of Poverty and reassess how we share with our neighbors.”

Payne also observed that some factors experienced by those in poverty, such as bankruptcy, make it difficult for people to plan ahead.

Those who want to help the poor should understand that the culture of poverty requires people to share, she said. A donor who gives a poor person a car to help them get to work should not be surprised if the recipient lends it to someone else.

Payne pointed out that people “desire relationships” from church, said Derrek Belase, director of Discipleship for the Conference. Church should not just be “a transaction,” such as offering donations of food.

He said the workshop gave church members and leaders “a chance to think more deeply about issues surrounding poverty.”



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