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Benevolence

Dan Reiland writes to church leaders: Meeting the needs of the poor and needy is difficult to say the least. It’s not just a matter of limited resources, but understanding vision, direction and God’s heart in the matter. This article provides thought to stir you and your church to assess and strengthen your local church benevolence.

 

Solomon understood the requirements of his kingdom when it came to the poor and needy. “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor.” Psalm 72:4. God’s heart in this matter is clear. We have a responsibility to those in need. “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4).

How often do you (your local church) respond to a person who needs help? It may be a homeless person who is hungry. It may be a member who needs help paying their electric bill. The needs are seemingly endless and scripture is clear that it is God’s heart to help the poor. How you determine who gets what is another story altogether. This tension is not a new one.

How often does your church respond to a person who needs help?

One of my most embarrassing, or perhaps most educational moments as a young pastor many (many) years ago involved one such walk-in appointment. I was straight out of seminary and this was my first. I was fired-up and ready to make a difference. She said she was hungry and needed money to purchase a much needed prescription for her sick child. I completely skipped any attempt to discern spiritual needs and jumped in with a goal to “fix” the problem. (I know – Poster boy for Mr. Naive.) At that church in San Diego we had a large food pantry. Staff members were instructed to give each family two bags of food and write down all their personal information, as well as look in the card box to see if they had been in before. I skipped the card box, got four bags of food, (hey – if two bags was good, four was better!) and gave her about fifty bucks. I was feeling really good until a seasoned pastor on staff asked: “Who was that you were talking to?” I told him it was a needy person and I helped her. He said, “You mean that lady right over there getting in her late model Cadillac?” He went on to tell me that she has been visiting all the churches in the area for years and is an expert at it. Then he said: “By the way, she doesn’t have any kids.” He went on to teach me why we don’t give cash, and gave me the privilege to handle ALL the walk-ins the next day. There were no less than 30 people lined up at our door the next morning, all eagerly anticipating cash. The word traveled fast… “There’s a rookie in town.” The majority are not like this woman. Most people who come in are in genuine need.

We want to help. We want to serve the poor. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. Judgment is not our job.

My heart was good even though my leadership was green. It’s not easy is it? We want to help. We want to serve the poor. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. Judgment is not our job. I recently heard a story about a homeless person driving to a local food cooperative. He pulled up in a Mercedes. People grumbled. Let me fast forward. This person was and had been living in the streets for years. They were truly hungry and in need. So what about the Mercedes? A used-car dealer took a chance on this person and gave him odd jobs, including occasionally delivering a car to its appropriate destinations. This person stopped in for food, like many times before, but this time with great pride offered to pay. Again, the majority who say they need help, genuinely do need help.

After years of experience I now think it is sometimes okay to be taken advantage of if we have done our best to discern the situation. It’s better to be taken advantage of on occasion than to allow your heart to grow cold. God will take care of the rest.

It is imperative that we are wise with our time and resources. They are both limited. That’s the tension for the local church. It’s not a lack of compassion. So what’s a pastor to do? The following are some thoughts to help you evaluate a plan for your church.

Keep your own heart tender to the needs around you.

It’s easy to allow the pressures of local church ministry to override your heart for people. It’s a strange irony. We do what we do in part simply because we love people. Then at times people become the burden of ministry. There are so many needs and so little time. We all understand that. Finding the balance is the insight we need.

Just because a need exists doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to take care of it.

We also know we must invest our time into finding and developing leaders or we’ll never keep up with the needs of people. The wonderful and capable volunteer leaders carry a huge load. The remaining time is thin. And this is where it gets easy to justify thinking we have no time for the poor, the needy and oppressed. It’s important that you choose to keep your heart open and tender to the needs around you, and stay involved, to some degree, at a hands-on level.

Understand that the need doesn’t constitute the call.

The first point made, now there’s the proverbial “other shoe.” You may have heard the phrase “the need doesn’t constitute the call.” It’s a good principle to guide your ministry. There are hundreds of needs, thousands really, but just because a need exists doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to take care of it.

Part of educating and maturing a congregation is to teach the people that it is not their job is to find the poor and needy and bring them to a pastor! They should follow God’s heart and meet the need as they can on their own. In many cases they can do just as good of a job if not better.

Strategic partnerships or hands-on ministry?

A tender heart is a good thing. Guilt is a killer. Sometimes you must say no – personally and or corporately. The key is learning to take some of the mechanics out and listen for God’s voice in the matter. It’s wise to literally ask Him, case by case, who He’d have you help. If He says yes, then do it. If He says no, then there is someone else, or another church, who can step up and meet the need. Coming full circle, the point is that you can’t help everyone, but you should always be helping someone.

Consider strategic partnerships within your community.

There are two distinctly different approaches in the way a local church goes about developing and implementing a benevolence strategy. One approach seeks to cover the needs directly from within the church by utilizing a direct hands-on method. The other forms strategic partnerships with organizations in the local community.

I have practiced each of these in a local church and there are benefits to both. It’s a good thing when a church is hands-on, and for example, has a food pantry and or a clothing bank. But now after trying both approaches, I personally lean heavily toward partnerships. By sending our volunteers and our financial resources to a number of existing agencies in the community, the process is more effective and the end result yields a greater impact.

Because a number of churches and organizations participate in these strategic partnerships, the total resources leveraged to any one need is significantly larger than when compared to what any one church could do on their own. Further, that organization puts their full time talent and attention to that work. Candidly, they’re better at it.

Image: Joel Muniz

The danger with partnerships is that the church might never “get its hands dirty”. They may just refer people out. That is a rare danger because there are always people you can’t refer, and the process of assessing and referring still requires time and care. Further, as already mentioned, one of the essentials is to send volunteers to wherever you send your financial resources. This helps ensure personal engagement at a hands-on level.

Know your strategy and put a plan in place.

This is important. You simply must know what you are doing. First pray about the specific needs you believe God wants you to lean into. There are dozens to choose from. Just because a church member brings you a new need doesn’t mean the church should own it. You can’t do all of them, so choose prayerfully. From there, decide what your limits are. For example, perhaps you decide to put a process of benevolence in place for your members. You need to decide, ahead of time, what criteria makes a person eligible to receive help, including how much they can receive. Exceptions can always be made, but you will be wise to have written guidelines.

Follow your discernment, and own your decisions.

Prayer and discernment in this delicate matter of helping those in need is essential.

As I’ve mentioned, exceptions can always be made. I’m going to take a risk here and challenge you to be willing own your exceptions. Prayer and discernment in this delicate matter of helping those in need is essential. But candidly, it’s easy to be extravagant with your help when it’s not your checkbook. You may be temped to “save the day” for a person when the cost goes against the church, but if it was your checkbook, you might think twice. Thinking twice is a good thing. If God calls you to help someone and that assistance requires you to override a limit or general policy, ask yourself if it was your money would you do it? It may be that God wants you to personally cover it.

You have noticed that I have not given you a list of local compassion options or guidelines for how much to invest. You have to decide that. My desire is to stir some fresh thought in hopes of strengthening your local church benevolence practices. I trust that intentionality will decrease headaches and increase your impact in people’s lives with the love and mercy of God.

 

Originally from the October 2008 issue of The Pastor’s Coach (Volume 9, Issue 18). “This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland’s free monthly e-newsletter, The Pastor’s Coach, available at www.INJOY.com.”

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Category: Fall 2020, Ministry

About the Author: Dan Reiland is executive pastor of 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He is the author of Amplified Leadership: 5 Practices to Establish Influence, Build People, and Impact Others for a Lifetime (Charisma House, 2012), Shoulder To Shoulder Strengthening Your Church By Supporting Your Pastor (Thomas Nelson, 1997), and From a Father's Heart: Letters of Encouragement to Children and Grandchildren (Thomas Nelson, 1999). DanReiland.com. Twitter: @DanReiland

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