HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY - Part 3
by Keith Giles
So far I've received a lot of encouraging feedback from many of you regarding this series. My hope is that this helps many of you catch a vision for how you can step out and begin to serve others and learn to love as Jesus does.
This week's installment will continue to look at valuable lessons I've learned over the years. Next week we'll look at specific ideas for the types of ministry to the poor that can be done and a brief "How To" for each of them. After that I'll end off this series with more detailed discussions of what ministry to the homeless and to prostitutes looks like, and the specific challenges involved with each.
For now, here's the rest of the list we started last week:
A long list of valuable lessons-
*You Will Get Back More Than You Give, Everytime. - I used to drive away from our various ministry sites feeling depressed. In my heart I always felt like we could have done more to help, or that I was desperately inadequate to meet the incredible needs of the people we were in relationship with. After awhile I began to understand that this is part of what it's all about. I also began to realize that the blessing I was taking home with me was always greater than the one I had just brought to the people we were in ministry to. No matter how massive or outrageous our ministry was, I always felt like it wasn't enough..and it never would be enough. Part of what I learned was how to be ok with this.
*You Can Only Help People Who Want Help. - There's a great passage in the Gospel where Jesus comes upon a man who is laying beside the Pool of Siloam. He is lame and obviously in need of healing. However, Jesus looks at this man and asks him, "Do you want to be made well?" It seems, at first, like a very stupid question. However, in my years of ministry with the homeless and the addicted and the broken, I have been amazed at how many of them don't really want to be made well. For some of them, if I were to reach out my hand and take away their addiction, or their poverty, or their infirmity, they would hate me for it. Sometimes you have to ask people if they're really looking for healing or not.
*Some People Only Want Help Staying The Way They Are, Not Help Getting Better. -Honestly, I'm a push-over. If someone asks me for food or money or assistance I have a hard time saying "No" and turning them away, especially if it's in my power or ability to do something. I think it has something to do about the Lord Jesus saying, "Give to anyone who asks of you expecting nothing in return" (Matthew 5:42). So, I will almost always help someone who comes to me for help...the first time. However, I've learned to help them further by saying, "Here's food/shelter/money/assistance for tonight, but what about tomorrow and next week? You need a long-term solution to your problem. Here's a few phone numbers to call. These people can help you make long-term changes and get off the street/off drugs/self sufficient/healing/counseling, etc."
The next time I see them, if they ask for help again, I will ask them, "Did you call those numbers I gave you last time?" and if they say "No" then I explain that the reason I'm not helping them today is because they didn't take any steps towards helping themselves in the long-term. Another response is to help someone financially with the understanding that they need to agree to sit down and allow us to help them create a budget to live on. If they agree, we help them. If they don't then we've established the terms under which were willing to help them out. However, sometimes I do just hand them food or money or pay their rent without any conditions attached. It depends on the person, the situation, and a bit of discernment.
*Be Prepared To Welcome The Poor Into Your Church, Your House, Your Family, and Your Life. - I usually caution people who come to me asking how to start a compassion ministry with this statement: "If you're not willing to sit next to these people in Church on Sunday, or to have them play with your kids, or to invite them over for pizza afterwards, then don't start a compassion ministry." Nowadays I usually just let them get their feet wet and after they've been doing it a while I'll suggest that this ministry is more about loving people and less about an outreach. Outreach implies going out to accomplish something. It keeps the poor "Out There" and that's not what Jesus modeled for us. If we're going to step out and demonstrate to people that Jesus Loves Them it has be consistent. It has to mean "We love you too," otherwise what we're really saying is "Jesus loves you but we're not too comfortable around you. Stay out here and we'll come back next month and minister to you again." This isn't the Gospel and we can damage the true power of the Gospel if we say one thing and model another.
*Change Is Difficult. - As you begin to minister to people who are homeless or living in poverty you'll no doubt come across a few people who just can't seem to get the courage to take that big step towards escaping poverty. I've seen people, more than once, come right up to the point of escaping poverty only to run as fast as they can in the other direction. Here's what I've learned: Holding their hand is good, but doing it for them is a big mistake. Sometimes the psychological leap is too great. It's much easier to remain in the world they know than to take a big step and risk failure. Some people will need you to be there with them every little step of the way. It can be frustrating, but when they finally do escape their situation the celebration will be well worth it. Others will just not ever be able to take that test or apply for that federal aid or drive down to that learning center or make that phone call to the counseling center, no matter how much you hold their hand and urge them to take the step. Taking that step for them will ease your frustration in the moment, but unless it's their idea and they're ready to follow through with things, they'll just back out of things eventually anyway. Prayer is really your best weapon usually.
*Don't Withhold The Blessing. - This is one of my big pet peeves in compassion ministry. I understand that everyone does things their own way, but nothing makes me more angry than to watch Christians withhold the food or the assistance, etc. until after people have sat through an hour long sermon or church service. The Gospel is expressed just as much in showing love and compassion without cost or agenda…maybe moreso. People understand love. They understand compassion. They appreciate sincere giving done without an ulterior motive. Just try it. It's incredibly powerful. Maybe if you bless them without strings attached they will WANT to know more about why you love them, and why you love Jesus.
*Listening Is The Best Ministry Possible. - File this under "Bigger is not Better." When you boil it all down, people just need to know you really care about them. Listening to people is the most powerful way you can demonstrate real love to them. Spending time with people and really paying attention to them is the best ministry you can ever do, and it doesn't cost you a thing.
*Don't Forget The Poor Among You. - I'm embarrassed to say I needed someone from my compassion team to point this out to me. Our church was so busy knocking ourselves out to minister to the poor in the community that we were neglecting the poor and the orphan and the widow and the single Moms in our very own congregation. Let the blessing begin in the Family of God. There are those among us who are also poor and need the love and the compassion of the Body. Don't forget them.
*Don't Use This Ministry As A Way To Market Your Church. - File this under "Things that make me very angry". I've noticed a disturbing trend among some churches lately where ministry to the poor is seen as being trendy and hip. They treat compassion ministry as a selling point for their church because it makes them look cool and it looks great on their website and in their bulletin each week. However, caring for people in need is typically not what they have foremost in mind. It's marketing their church. This really ticks me off. So, when we first started our Compassion Ministry I told our team members that, although I wasn't forbidding anyone else, I would never wear one of our church t-shirts to our ministry events. "Why not?" someone would always ask me. Because I don't want them to ever see that t-shirt and say "Oh…that's why they're being so nice to us." In fact, recently we've been joined by another large mega-church at the motel. Although we've been there for five years now, this mega-church has been serving breakfast every other Sunday and setting up tents and chairs and tables and having an on-site Church service. Beause their presence is quite large, many of those we minister to often assume that we're from this mega-church. They will even end their prayers by saying, "And God bless the good people of **** Church" to which I always say, "Amen!" I love it that our specific church is able to bring Glory to Jesus and even favor to another local Church by serving these people. It's a great reminder that our service to these people isn't about making our church famous or competing with other churches. It's simply about modelling the love of Jesus for people.
*Don't think of it as "Outreach" but as Loving People. - After awhile the word Outreach becomes a dirty word. To me, the word carries the connotation of keeping people at arms length. I prefer to refer to what we do as Compassion Ministry or Service or simply "Being with our friends". Even to call them "The Poor" in some ways puts them into a classification that is demeaning and de-humanizing. Whenever possible think of them as your friends. They are people. They have the same needs as you and I. Love them as Jesus loves you.
-End Part 3
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