Church secretaries, pastors, or other staff may have a clear image come to mind when thinking of a single mom asking for gas money, the couple with the new baby who needs rent money, the young man who wants a motel voucher, or the call for money or food.
Whom do we help? Whom do we turn away? How do you decide?
In response to our requests, Love INC has a practical guide for responding to people in need who walk into your church asking for help: a workshop, "Helping The Poor At Your Door."
We all desire to serve with love and compassion and yet be discerning enough to distinguish the worthy requests from unworthy requests. We know that, yet finding that balance can be a challenge. It can leave us uncertain at times.
Many of God's people wrestle with these difficult decisions. By sharing ideas and information we can do better as we work together.
I am not the expert. I do have suggestions to help that come from five years of hands-on personal experience working here at Love INC, along with the 14 years of experience by Love INC of the Kenai Peninsula.
Additionally, across the country, Love INC has worked with people in many communities for 25 years using these concepts with success.
However, there are individual or corporate (church) philosophies on how best to serve those in need and how to determine which requests are legitimate. Given the same information regarding a person's situation, we would likely respond differently.
We all come into this kind of ministry, whether by choice, calling or default (someone in the office has to do it) with great expectations, great hearts of mercy. Though we want to help and to show Jesus' love, after a while, we see the overwhelming needs, we feel uncertain about the responses we give, we aren't sure if we are helping.
Our hearts can begin developing calluses. Sometimes we become disillusioned, cynical, perhaps even bitter. To avoid that, one should have a clear plan for responding to those in need.
Begin with a clear understanding of your church's individual philosophy of meeting financial needs. Know your budget and the criteria your church wishes for you to use. Make a distinction between spiritual or emotional needs as opposed to material needs. Prayerfully establish your motive for ministry to the poor. This should ideally link outreach and evangelism. Mercy ministry should be deliberate, thoughtful and planned.
We need to see people as whole people as opposed to just a need. They have emotional, physical, spiritual and relational needs. Jesus addressed the whole person. Often, people are not aware of their deeper needs. If they are, they may not know how to go about getting those needs met.
So often, with self-esteem needs, they need our hope, our respect, our accountability. Someone needs to invest in their lives. So many people are so alone.
People lose their sense of value and worth. Life means little or nothing to a lot of people. Truth is perceived as relative not as absolute or God-given. They are afraid to believe in anything. If the church doesn't care, then who will?
There is no group like the church. The church is the only group large enough to change our community. There are approximately 70 Christian churches on the peninsula. That's 70 branch offices of the largest helping agency in the area.
We have approximately 2,376 church volunteers signed up to make themselves available to respond to various needs through Love INC. If it were a business, it would be the largest by far.
God owns the biggest business in town. It's huge! It's in every neighborhood of this community. Even the wealthiest neighborhoods are filled with people in need.
There is no group like the church. The church is filled with people who are called and gifted for service. But, it must be organized to serve most effectively.
Can you see how vitally important the church is to our community?
The Church of Jesus is the answer to the needs of this community.
I cordially invite all church staff people who find themselves in the position of helping the poor at your door, to Love INC's workshop at the CARTS office Sept. 13 at 11:30 a.m. Bring your questions. Bring your answers. We can learn from one another.
Janine Espy is the program director of Love INC (In the Name of Christ) in Kenai. The phone number is 283-5252.
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