When our heart breaks for the people of this world, both locally and globally, we will find ourselves on mission with God—sacrificing our own lives because of the size of the need. This is where it gets hard to manage tensions in a life of service:
- Deciding where to focus our time and energy to alleviate the needs in our world. We simply cannot do it all.
- Maintaining a lifestyle that keeps God pouring into us, so that we don’t “burn out” or serve needs out of obligation, rather than out of love.
- Not judging other people who have not learned about the need or been given that burden yet.
- Maintaining a stance that serve BOTH physical and spiritual needs, not simply one or the other.
Ministry Fail #1:
Meeting Physical Needs, but Not Spiritual Needs
Those with big needs are the most receptive to the love of God & His people. A big part of getting into a culture and spreading the message of Jesus is meeting the needs of the people. Often because those needs are visible, they prick our hearts far more than the spiritual needs people have. Just as Jesus did as He healed people, we must show people the love of Jesus by meeting their physical needs, so that they can understand unconditional love…but we must be careful not to stop there.
Popular Areas of Need-Based Ministry:
- Alleviating Poverty
- Providing Infrastructure for Clean Water, Farming, etc.
- Rescuing People and Seeking Justice: Orphans, Widows, Sex Trafficking, etc.
- Spreading Medical and Technological Advancements: AIDS Prevention and Treatment
Ministries that help people with sickness, poverty, and social justice issues are great! However, I would urge you to always look for ministries that minister to BOTH physical and spiritual needs. True long-term transformation always involves the spiritual! Sometimes we get so caught up in the joy and fun and challenge of helping people that we can lose sight of the fact that they need Jesus for lasting change and eternal life. Sustainable, lasting change is only the result of the activity of the Holy Spirit inside a person’s life.
If we want to change the world, the one essential—the most effective tool by far—is the church. It is people with a personal relationship with God, spreading His love. If it had been ANYTHING else, I am sure Jesus would have challenged us to do more than simply make disciples. I only support ministries that are working alongside or as part of the church—ministries that reach people AND heal people.
Ministry Fail #2
Meeting Needs Without Creating Sustainable Change Hurts More Than It Helps
The way we help people can make a HUGE difference in what they become. When people are reduced to homelessness and begging, they can deteriorate because they are not challenged to be normal members of society, to think critically and to act responsibly. If we fight poverty by giving out free meals and free money, many people will simply choose to stay in poverty because we have made it both easy and comfortable.
If you give a man a fish, you’ll feed him for a day…
If you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime.
While there are plenty of times a handout is appropriate, we should approach every ministry opportunity with the desire to see a person’s life become responsible and sustainable.
At oneChurch we’ve started urging everyone who comes to us for financial assistance to meet with one of our FPU coordinators to help them manage their money better. If they need money a second time, we require them to meet with the FPU coordinator, because we want to make certain they break the cycle of need in a way that helps them long term.
A Great Example: Compassion
Compassion is an organization dedicated to eliminating poverty…THROUGH LOCAL CHURCHES and children. They realized long ago that they would have the greatest impact spiritually and breaking poverty by focusing on children. They have chosen and created an extremely successful strategy that saves souls and eliminates poverty long term.
They help connect donors with people in need on a personal level—their donors write letters back and forth to children throughout the time they are sponsored, they can even plan a trip to visit them.
They always work through a local church—giving a church the money, food, and tools to serve kids, and making the church the light for both physical and spiritual care.
They spend money conservatively. Their staff don’t have big salaries, and a person’s donations don’t get spent on administrative fees.
Counter example: Article Worldvision – using “child sponsorships” in a deceptive way.
Good Local Comparison: Manna Café vs. Radical Mission
Manna Café serves 3 meals in town each week and often gives out boxes of food to families in need in our community. However in the fast majority of instances where our volunteers have participated, the people coming to eat are not known or shown any personal relationship. From the way they are served to the way they eat, they are treated as a different group, without any connection to additional resource or encouragement. The people who are fed simply become dependent on the meals they are provided. There’s little effort to know the people or see life change.
Evaluation: Creating Dependent People
Radical Mission also has a food pantry along with a TON of other helpful services, but they open up a local church so that the people in need have a place to gather and get to know one another. They invite them to work together to grow their own food in a community garden. They welcome them to worship at the church. They invite them to meet with a counselor, attend a money management course and an employment class, or join a substance abuse recovery group. They work toward sustainable life change for the people who will give them that chance.
Evaluation: Striving for Sustainable Life Change
Other Ministries and Thoughts:
www.charitynavigator.org is a great site for seeing how a charity does at managing their funds responsibly.
410 Bridge Values: http://www.410bridge.org/
- We seek to do the right thing as God defines it.
- We are committed to sharing both the “music” and the “words” of the Gospel.
- We serve and work with and through the “local church” in a non-denominational manner.
- We are committed to healthy giving; separating how and what we give from our desire to feel good about ourselves.
- We are committed to the well being of the community with a long-term orientation. We are not a “project-driven” organization.
- We are committed to being “pulled” by the community versus “pushing” Western-driven solutions.
- We will not move faster than the community, and not force the community to move faster than they are capable.
- We measure our success by what a community does for themselves, not what we do for them.
- We allow local leaders and churches to lead, and will not usurp their authority.
- We uphold the principle of “personal responsibility”.
- We are committed to healthy change, innovation, and new approaches.
Relevant Thought: missions agencies rarely remove a person from working overseas if they are receiving money from a strong base of supporters. Removing the missionary also reduces the administrative money they are receiving. You’ll want to ensure that if you support a missionary, they are truly making an eternal impact by starting churches. One thing I love about the IMB is that they are very strict on their appointment and monitoring of missionaries. They will remove people from the mission field more readily because their supporters give to the cause of reaching the nations, rather than always to specific individuals.
Operation Christmas Child – a one time Christmas gift to a child that allows them to hear the message of Jesus. This does not create any dependent relationships, and tries to address small physical needs alongside a spiritual one. It’s an ok investment.
Compassion Kits are a similar size/expense gift that creates an ongoing relationship where men come to faith and then trained to become pastors in their hometown. This gift has a far greater impact. It’s a better investment.
Water Wells in Africa relieve a large burden on many communities where the resource is scarce. However, many ministries fail to teach the villagers how to maintain the pump or return to service the pump after it is installed, so the well only helps for a year or so before the people are faced with the original problem again. Always ask: how sustainable is this solution?
Tom’s Shoes are popular footwear, in part due to the company’s promise to give a pair a shoes to a person in need overseas for every pair purchased in the U.S. However, many charitable gifts compete with local businesses and put them out of business by killing demand for a product that people could otherwise afford. This solution needs to be evaluated carefully to ensure it’s doing more good than harm, and we must take into account that it has NO connection to serving people’s spiritual needs. It’s a mediocre investment, at best.
No Complacency: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqPkteVT85U
- What cause or need are you most compelled to be involved with?
- Have you seen the needs of the world up close? Often a personal encounter is what really begins to grip our heart for a specific need.
- What local charities do you most live to support? Are they creating sustainable life change?