What do you do when someone approaches you in a parking lot asking you for a bus pass or for enough money for a hotel that night?
How about when you get approached on a Sunday morning by someone who wants you to take them to the grocery store because they won’t get paid for a few days and the pantry is empty?
Sincere followers of Jesus seek to meet needs as the Spirit reveals them, but that doesn’t mean every action is helpful.
Recently a group from Chrio met to share stories and talk about how to best love people who are in need.
Here are 9 takeaways to consider in benevolence situations
1. Every situation is unique.
Since no two situations are alike, I recommend having guidelines that you will consciously pray through each time you encounter an opportunity.
(See the end of this post for one person’s benevolence guidelines within the Chrio family).
2. What matters most is love.
Romans 5:6 reminds us that Christ came to die for the ungodly. It wasn’t the ‘cleaned up & have everything together’ group that Jesus died for, but the ungodly…which is everyone.
Sometimes I’d rather err on the side of being generous than end up turning away a legitimate need. That word sometimes is important.
3. Don’t give money to people.
This is a general rule I have and as a policy, Chrio will never give anyone cash.
4. Recognize that you have limited resources and you are called to steward them well.
God doesn’t expect you to meet, or contribute to, every need you come across.
5. The Holy Spirit is always at work both in the situation and in your heart.
This may mean breaking your guidelines from time to time as the Spirit wants to stretch your ability to love.
6. The context of the request may shape your response (this is an off-shoot to #1-every situation is unique).
If your Community Group or church at large is seeking to be a blessing in a neighborhood or among a particular group of people, this may elevate the importance of the request.
Don’t let stinginess to be your corporate reputation where you are seeking to seed the gospel. With that said, Chrio doesn’t meet every request that comes in from our neighborhood.
7. Recognize there are aspects of poverty and everyone is poor…including you.
Poverty comes in many shapes and forms. Here are four basic aspects of poverty. Remember, we all have gaps, so we are all poor in some capacity.
a. Poverty with God (does person love God and recognize how loved they are by Him?)
b. Poverty of self. (our mental/physical resources)
c. Poverty with resources (money, possessions etc.)
d. Poverty of community (relationships…friendships, family and the like)
8. Recognize what type of Benevolent Activity you are participating in.
a. Serving people within the Chrio family. Generally, we have high commitment to caring for our brothers and sisters. We commit to make sure the most basic needs are met among our church family. Often, this means a heavy reliance on community resources for food assistance etc.
Part of the challenging side of this is that the people we are closest to we often know the best. So sometimes loving someone within the Chrio family means telling them no (setting a boundary) or providing accountability so they will mature in Christ.
b. Organized Efforts as a Church– there are times when the Chrio leadership filters a need down to the congregation and encourages the whole family to participate in meeting it in some fashion (like the multiple times we have encountered apartment fires and asked people to donate any extra goods they have).
c. Random Efforts as an individual– someone walks up to you at the gas pump etc.
9. Apply the right approach to the need.
An excellent book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself, organizes needs into 3 categories.
Relief is when someone is in immediate crisis. Think dehydration in the summer sun (btw, calling 911 is an option!) or a child that is helpless on the streets. This requires immediate attention.
Rehabilitation is the strength building exercises that moves someone from impoverished (but not in crisis) to basic sustainability.
Development is a long term project to help someone change their world so they have more options in the future. Think of a single working mom without family or community support who right now has a minimum wage job but wants to attend college to get a better career to provide for her family long term. She may need childcare to help her reach her goal of getting to classes etc.
Here is the book I recommend if you’re leading a benevolence ministry or you want to deepen your understanding of how to serve people in your community. Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence.
One person who attended the meeting wrote of these principles they want to follow:
1. Compassion. Be compassionate and show compassion to those I am helping. Try to put myself in their shoes. Apply the “golden rule.”
2. “How can I help?” – Some situations are overwhelming, Like the feeding of the five thousand. But I can give of my “two loaves and five fishes.”
3. What do I have to give? From the example of Peter and John responding to a beggar in the Acts. “silver and gold have I none, but…” I always have kindness, love, God’s word, knowledge and discernment. I usually have time and some resources. I can always pray.
4. Use discernment and ask questions in a kind non-threatening manner. What does this person want? Are there community resources I can direct them to? Some people are simply asking for a handout. I desire to look for those who are seeking life change and want to take responsibility for their lives.
Remember every situation is unique, and often the Holy Spirit likes to bust rules so hearts can be transformed, both the giver’s and the receiver’s. May God grant you wisdom and fruitfulness as you listen, learn and serve.