Tag Archives: Helping

HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 3 of 3) … Toward Some Solutions

To calm fears that a full-blown implementation of this “Helping Without Hurting” model could never address the myriad nuances and unique factors of the special cases we face each day, know that there remains much room for flexibility in precise implementation. There is a time & place for the helper to bestow immediate relief (after a natural disaster or family tragedy, for example), to be more generous in terms of financial help during the ensuing months of recovery, but to encourage a greater sense of personal responsibility during the following years of personal & community development. All three phases of help must take into account community resources and (perhaps) larger factors (like unjust political systems) which complicate accountability.

The Biblical gospel informs all this, as the helper comes to terms with God’s perspective that his need (as the helper) for restored relationships (with God, with self, with other, and with creation) is just as significant as those of the “needy” person he strives to bless. Since this is true, the proper stance is for me to come alongside my new friend so that we might approach the Lord Jesus Christ as beggars together. In no way will I be interested in creating another dependent, even if having a human being depend upon me makes me feel better about myself, for a little while. You may recall one point of C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters: that Satan and his demons are always working, to push each person just a bit off center. So which way is he pushing you? Are you the kind of person who is sinfully irresponsible, or are you sinfully independent (in a proud and deceived way)?

Christ Covenant Church is pleased to cosponsor an important conference to highlight these themes, September 23-24. The Tuesday night event is on the local university campus and the Wednesday morning event will be held at a nearby church. Please join us in praying that lasting benefits will come, for the good of 1) social welfare workers; 2) students of social welfare & sociology (future leaders); 3) deacon boards; 4) all charitable ministries. For all of us, we must be interested in serving smarter, blessing our neighbors Biblically. The sponsoring congregations and ministries are footing the bill for this conference as a gift to Lawrence, so that mercy funds can be preserved for investing in the “Helping Without Hurting” resources and into the critical ministries we must pursue.

While sharing many of these stories with a group of local ministers, one of them chimed in with his own. He is about to become a fellow father-in-law with another gentleman, a highly successful businessman and a growing Christian. When meeting for the first time, they were walking to a downtown restaurant and stepped around a homeless man lying down in the sidewalk. The soon-to-be father-in-law said to my pastor-friend: “Fifteen years ago, that was me!” My friend was perplexed, & asked for details. Much was shared about God’s grace in Christ, but I pass along to you the first sentence of the recovery story. In response to the question, “When/how did the positive change begin?” this formerly homeless man who will now be blessing a generation of grandchildren replied: “It started to go better when people stopped helping me.” Now there are many details missing which will likely show that this man has been blessed, all his life, by true helpers. But there was evidently a kind of “help” he was experiencing as a homeless man which was really hurt.

One final illustration, I trust, will highlight the critical need for these concepts, in our Christian ministries and in our civil governments. To my knowledge, many years ago there was one overnight shelter available for those in our community who were homeless ~ the faith-based Salvation Army, located strategically downtown. The leaders of that front-line ministry had one simple “moral” requirement (really, it touched only on the external behavior of the homeless): Basically, you cannot sleep overnight here if you are drunk or high on drugs. In addition, one could not “live” there; after a certain number of nights the client had to move out for a set time. Our city-fathers evidently thought that the simple moral requirement was too pushy, preachy, or judgmental, and that the limitation on number of night-stays was less than generous, so they established a city-shelter alternative with no such limitations. Many individuals who were being helped through the Salvation Army dashed over to “the competition,” and eventually the downtown Salvation Army was told not to house people overnight.

Consider: Which ministry actually had the higher regard for its clients, honoring them as human beings who must grow to understand and experience some of the natural consequences for their choices? Which ministry tried to direct needy people to the one Person with the power and authority to keep helping dependents (including ourselves)? Perhaps the deep revival we are seeking here will produce transformative changes in the people-helping operations here. May it be.

HELPING WITHOUT HURTING (Part 1 of 3) … Lamentations About Charity

Today I am an ordained pastor; in presbyterian polity, this means I am a particular kind of elder. Before I was ordained to the eldership I served as a young deacon in Indiana. Most of our congregations give their deacons access to mercy funds in order to bless the poor. Please allow me to rehearse some of my growing anxiety at that time, a deepening concern that, perhaps, we were “doing more harm than good.” At times, it seemed that we were supplying resources to deepen addictions (both to chemical substances & to an unhealthy kind of dependence on “O.P.M.” = Other People’s Money). We may have strengthened false impressions about “the Main Purpose of the Church.” It was remarkable to observe the audacity of callers who sought to instruct me (the church deacon) that the major mission of the Christian church is to give money to the poor, specifically, to them, at that moment.

I also had the strong impression that we were fostering a culture of lies. Many times after the bestowal of some mercy gift a recipient would insist that, out of gratitude or some kind of pay-back, he’d see me on Sunday for worship. In the early years of my diaconal labors I thought this was wonderful and appropriate. Alas, by my count, 14 of the 15 who made this commitment (one I was never seeking) failed to attend THAT Sunday or any Sunday.

More reasons for angst: We know the Biblical importance of giving even a cup of cold water in the name of Christ, but our typical design for delivering the help made the mere mention of Christ’s name (and His gospel) awkward. We were also hearing from the same people quarter after quarter, with the same “emergency” need, and sometimes the one asking for the assistance had no recollection I was the same person to whom she spoke on the previous occasion [this “relationship” was not progressing]! We also found ourselves giving charity dollars to people who were members and/or attenders at other Bible-based churches in our city. Often the needy person told me that his church did not give charity. So in my giving, I ended up resenting some in the wider body of Christ, but today I am wondering if those congregations had good reasons not to give to this one or that one.

Many of the people who called were driving from East Coast to West, to attend the funeral of some dear one, but alas, their old car blew a tire, and they had three babies in the back seat running out of formula, and all they needed was $50 & a night in the interstate motel. Or so they said; so they all said! Then again, how many ostensibly starving folks I offended and angered by buying $30 of groceries and putting $20 of fuel into their tanks instead of just handing over the $50 they really wanted, even though they told me they needed food & gas. On several occasions, the very announcement of this plan led to a fast drive-away!

One particular mercy call stands out from the rest. Following good counsel, I grew into the decent habit of enquiring about the caller’s relationships & circles of helpers. That is, I would observe aloud that this individual was calling for help from total strangers, and so it was only natural for me to wonder if the caller was capable of addressing his own financial needs. If not, what about his/her family, out to the level of cousins? Then: Do you belong to a church, even one in which you were involved years ago? On this occasion, the young man was telling me his sad story about the mean grandparents who had kicked him out onto the mean streets of our city. Jaded, perhaps, I asked to speak with these monsters. Within the hour, there we were, all together ~ myself, the eighteen-year-old, and his grandparents in their living room. Clarity came swiftly: This youth was repeatedly violating their reasonable standards about drugs and curfews, and so he was experiencing the first hours of some hard consequences for his foolish choices. I mean, he had called me and many other churches within one day of being evicted! At best, this youth was giving me selfishly slanted truth. My impression was that this boy’s real needs were much more complicated than I had considered. The grandparents, in a gesture of great patience, expressed a willingness to take him back into their home that very evening if he would promise, once again, to comply with their simple regulations. A $50 gift from our church to this youth might have cut off his strongest human relationship.

There are interesting parallels in the area of foreign missions, with plenty of good and bad examples still bearing their fruit many decades after “the missionaries landed.” More than a century ago, John Nevius noticed (from his Biblical and practical studies) that the new fields do much better in the long term if “three selfs” are respected from the earliest days: self-support, self-governance, and self-propagation. But if the outside missionaries insist on doing for the “natives” what the “natives” can do for themselves, a root of paternalism and unhealthy dependency is planted which may never be removed. For those who care for details, this Nevius Plan was carried out most insistently by presbyterian missionaries in South Korea, a church-culture which is doing well in many ways. The RPCNA’s more recent efforts in Sudan seem fruitful in the early decades. The Westerners resolved, there, not to preach, but to get behind the best young men who showed some gifts and ministry inclinations. These young leaders were highly supported, behind the scenes. The sense that our workers might have to leave this war-torn region at a moment’s notice also helped with this resolve to get in & get out. In missions ~ it appears ~ we start out on the right foot or curse our friends to limp along for generations after we enjoy a hero’s praise.

Closer to home, our denomination sponsored holistic ministries in Alabama among the freedmen, in Kentucky among the mountain-poor, and in Oklahoma among recently relocated Native Americans. In each case, churches and schools and craft-shops worked in unison to care about “the whole man” and the individuals in community. Clear evidences of social transformation were showing. Then, of course, a government public school was built nearby, offering free education, welfare for parents, & fewer strings or conditions for all the assistance. Hundreds transferred out of the church schools & these missions closed down soon after ~ producing a poverty of spirit which remains to this day in these places.

Lawrence Congregations Move Forward with Social Justice Ministry

… by Giles Bruce … posted Monday, May 5, 2014


What could happen if Lawrence were a city for justice?  That’s what Justin Jenkins, pastor at Velocity Church, asked at a recent meeting of local religious leaders who have come together to make Lawrence what they describe as a more socially just community.  The group, which had its orientation in March, includes leaders from 22 local congregations who have been gathering monthly to discuss what the tentatively titled Lawrence Justice Ministry might look like.  This month, several of the clergy members will be giving “City on a Hill” sermons in which they will outline to their congregations what the scriptures say about social justice.  The religious leaders hope the ministry can help show the difference between mercy and justice.  Mercy is what many of the congregations already do ~ feed the hungry, house the homeless.  Justice, they say, means transforming the system so those needs no longer exist.  “I can imagine a day that we don’t need LINK (the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen) anymore, that we don’t need the shelter anymore, that we don’t need Family Promise anymore,” said Matt Sturtevant, pastor at First Baptist Church.  Added Jenkins:  “There’s a difference between first aid, which is to save someone’s life, and actually treating the disease, which is a long-term solution.”  “It’s about looking at the causes instead of just the effects,” said John McDermott, pastor at Morning Star Christian Church.  The group started last year after the faith leaders began talking about whether they might be able to make a difference in solving injustices.  Congregations have been coming together in Lawrence and elsewhere across the U.S. for years ~ during the civil rights movement of the mid-20th Century, for instance ~ but this is the first time locally there has been this large of a unified effort focused on transformative justice, the group says.  The ministry plans to start a listening process in the fall to identify the major social injustices in Lawrence, with community meetings open to the public.  In early 2015, they will decide on the issue or issues most important to Lawrencians and begin working on solutions.  “We believe that having justice is a religious obligation,” said Moussa Elbayoumy, director of the Islamic Center of Lawrence.

JMM Response, for CC-RPC’s website (05/2014, based on Dec./2013 intx. with DART leader)

Dear ____ (regional leader of D.A.R.T. = Direct Action & Resource Training Center, which seeks to organize local coalitions like the one coming together here as the “Lawrence Justice Ministry”]:  Thank you for the time you invested to seek understanding of/with us [late last year, 2013].  Because getting forty men together to hear from the four of us [evangelical pastors] is highly unlikely and because of your own request for it, we provide this bare summary of our long talk, hoping it will shed light on ONE evangelical position (… not the only faithful one).   We trust that you will represent this/us well in communicating with the growing DART-Lawrence contingent.

Some evangelical pastors in Lawrence are taking a “Gamaliel Approach” to DART-Lawrence at this time, certain we cannot stand against the work of God, convinced that we would never want to do so, and actually praying that Jesus Christ will be honored through YOUR efforts toward increasing justice (Let it roll down like mighty watersAmos 5:24).  That said, we are choosing to stay out of THIS justice-related union at the present time, for these reasons, among others:

(1) As much as we love justice and are working for its spread in our community, we doubt that much positive progress can be made without very careful definitions of critical words like justice, peace, shalom, God, sin, and reconciliation.  Who is God?  How can we know Him?  Through what one name may we know Him?  What does this God say about justice … and injustice?  If injustice is a form of sin, how can sinners be forgiven-reconciled, by/with God and others they offended?  So an effective justice ministry which deserves full passion and support of Christian pastors and congregations should aim for initial foundational agreement concerning Who brings about lasting justice and how He does so through His redeemed, reconciled people.  All this demands clear allegiance to the Bible (the sixty-six books of the Old and the New Testaments) and the Triune God it reveals.  To support justice initiatives from our hearts and our wallets, we must know that we are working with brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, building on a foundation of inerrant Scriptures, pursuing compatible visions of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom.

(2) But as impressed as we are concerning the diversity of religious and spiritual leadership gathered around this need and opportunity, we wonder how two (or three, or four) who are so divided on spiritual foundations can walk together.  See, pursuit of true justice through long processes of reconciliation is a fundamental demand of the Christian gospel, but disciples of Jesus are not to be unequally yoked together with those who are not worshiping Christ as the exclusive Lord, way, truth, and life (John 14:6).  Paul equates “unbelievers” with lawlessness and darkness in his famous charge about unequal yokes (2 Cor. 6:14); who are we to say we know better today?  While it is in our nature to be just as polite, congenial, and neighborly as the rest of the gents in the room, several decades of history in Douglas County tell us that not all of the early D.A.R.T. participants have proven themselves to be friends of truth, life, and Jesus Christ.  This should be manifestly clear to everyone, as non-Christian religions are represented, along with cultic versions of Christianity and groups which long ago gave up on the idea that people are saved by grace alone through faith in the God-man alone according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone [and all of those terms must be defined Biblically/creedally as well].

(3) This leads us to sincere doubts about the nuts and bolts plan for justice pursuits through such an ecumenical endeavor:  Will this be yet another repeat of the “social gospel” agenda which forgets the gospel?  Might we expect a high priority for leftist-style wealth redistribution under the guise of love for the poor?  Will it be assumed that civil governments should play the primary role in bringing about this justice and equity (that is, members of religious communities will basically appeal to elected officials to “do justice”), instead of each person, family, and faith community acting justly within their sphere?  And will we see yet another wave of “gender-identity justice” become the dominant concern in our liberal community, just as previous pushes have enjoyed strong support from our most liberal congregations (“Christian” and otherwise)?  And will it ever occur to DART-Lawrence to consider that the deepest injustice of OUR lifetimes, in the United States has been the legalized killing of 55 million babies in the womb since 1973, leaving those dead plus millions of wounded would-be parents and siblings?  Yes, we know that a passion for eliminating legalized abortion in our community would be too controversial, not a topic to bring together Lawrence faith communities; it would be a non-starter.  But sometimes litmus tests are useful, and a number of us wonder how true justice can be pursued by those who cannot see this crime of the centuries for what it is.  God forgive us.

(4) We urge LJM members to recognize that many ministries already at work in our community, supported well by many of you, already have strong justice components (for the hungry and homeless, underemployed, “strangers in our midst” from other lands, “pregnant & scared,” etc.).  We are resolved to continue supporting these initiatives well, giving out cups of cold water and much more, always in the name of Christ, such that Jesus is front-and-center in the witness and in the gift … not a copilot, a side-thought, or a footnote in a bylaw or brochure.  Christian pastors & churches are to present to a lost world the message of Jesus with absolute clarity, in all its forms.  True words are ALWAYS necessary to explain our motivation for these acts of charity and justice.

(5) Finally, we urge great caution through mentioning the title of a culture-changing book, representatives of which will be coming to Lawrence in September, 2014:  When Helping Hurts.  The history of charity, help, & justice ministry is littered with kind deeds worked out unbiblically, such that helpers & victims are NOT seeing one another as we are (beggars before a generous God who makes known HIS paths of relational reconciliation).

It is not a little thing for us to claim the mantle or the spirit of Gamaliel, as his Acts 5 counsel was honest only if he ceased speaking ill of the followers of Jesus Christ in venues other than the Sanhedrin Council, and possibly joined hands with those Christian disciples after he could see the godliness of their lives and message.  We look forward to seeing positive developments through DART and LJM, and we will eagerly encourage our friends to join in on the public gatherings you propose which are in keeping with the priorities summarized above.  To use one of your own picturesque analogies, we understand that “the DART Bus” will be coming around the block more than once, such that there will be other opportunities for us to get on board!  Friends of justice that you want to be, we trust that those who hesitated to jump on during the first round will receive a hearty welcome and not be kept out in the cold nor pushed to the back.

And [Jesus Christ] is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created … all things have been created by and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also the Head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross. …” (Colossians 1:15-20).

Sincerely for Jesus, on behalf of a few evangelical pastors who are still learning & growing ~ JMM