Understanding Poverty: A Theological Perspective

Tearfund is convinced that poverty is not God’s plan for the world. 

We believe God created a good world that would flourish under the care of humans charged with cultivating it and protecting it. Humans created to bear God’s image, to love the world and their neighbors the way God does, instead rebelled against God and invited chaos into the world. We see the results of people estranged from God, with a broken sense of self, and with destructive relationships with others and with the environment. 

Those broken relationships result in poverty, spiritual and material. Brokenness results in hunger, insecurity, violence, loneliness, and hopelessness.

The good news is that Jesus loves this hurting, chaotic world, and in his death he defeated the forces that hold people in poverty. He invites us to be restored to a relationship with God, and to follow him in restoring other relationships, taking up our restored identity as image-bearers and starting to live justly--to put things right--in anticipation that Jesus will return one day to bring the work of justice to glorious completion. 

The work of the church around the world is a ministry of reconciliation, of people to God, to each other, to themselves, and to the creation that provides for their needs. Through the Bible, churches help people discover through the truth that they are surrounded by the resources they need for flourishing, and that they are empowered by God to use them for his glory and for the good of their families and communities. 

We think good theology is a foundation for fighting poverty, because it helps us understand what the real problems are.

Please take a moment to check out some of these resources if you’d like to understand why we work the way we do. 



These essays, by Andy Crouch, Brian Fikkert, and others, explores the biblical idea of the imago Dei – the image of God – and helps us consider what impact this concept might have on some areas of Tearfund’s and our partners’ work. Each essay includes a few questions for you, your church or organization to think about and discuss.


This booklet presents Tearfund’s thinking about what poverty is and how we can best respond. It draws on years of experience and reflection and on conversations about these very questions with many different people: from those we are working with and serving in some of the world’s poorest communities, to development experts, church leaders and theologians, to politicians, academics and business leaders.

It describes our understanding of the nature and causes of poverty, and our vision for a future in which the whole of creation thrives.


Tearfund’s approach to humanitarian and development response is to work wherever possible with and through the local church. This is because, as a Christian NGO, Tearfund considers itself to have a specific calling to work alongside local communities of Christians to help bring transformation to the lives of those living in poverty. Whilst acknowledging that the church is a flawed human institution, and that no one is beyond reproach, Tearfund believes that, at its best, the church is an organization with the potential to help reshape the lives of the communities it serves across the world.

PRAYER EXERCISE: What on earth is poverty?

What is poverty? It may sound like an odd question to ask. However, you might be surprised by our answer at Tearfund – it’s been hiding in plain sight in the pages of the Bible...

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