Monday, August 25, 2008

Churches Helping the Poor

This was posted in a forum on MennoDiscuss, in a discussion about whether it is enough for a church to help the poor or whether they should give them the gospel as well.

One thing I have noticed in working with the homeless for years in a church context is that "churchies"-- by which I mean middle class Christians-- are willing to give the gospel and they are willing to share resources, but they are often unwilling to do the very thing that would bring people to the Lord-- have a realtionship with the poor.

Both options that have been batted around on this forum-- giving help alone or giving the gospel with it-- are easy to do from a distance. I pass people with signs asking for food or some kind of handout. Usually I have breakfast bars to hand out to people. Sometimes I have a bag which has socks, a bar, some fruit and a tract. But honestly, does any of this really bring anyone to the Lord?

Of course, it is the Spirit that really brings people to the Lord, and we can pray for them. But do we? Do we enact the Spirit by praying for those whom we help?

The best thing we can do to bring people closer to God, to really meet people's needs is to do these things in the context of relationship. I know about 500 homeless people now. I know how they live, what their weaknesses are and their strengths. In the midst of this, I know if I can give them money or not. I know what they really need. I know how to pray for them, and I do. Now, that's easy for me, after all, I'm a pastor to the homeless. It's harder for someone in a middle class context to connect with someone in a lower class.

My recommendation: Rather than setting up a program in which one's church is "serving" the poor with a wall separated between them. Rather than handing out tracts to the poor in hopes that they would come to know Jesus and so become "like us" (which a lot of times means for them not only following Jesus, but also being middle class). Instead, as a family, invite a poor family out to dinner. Don't have them come to your house or go to their house, because they would feel either inadequate or judged. Find a neutral ground that you can just talk and find out more about each other.

Evangelism is so often seen as an instant event. But in reality, it is a long process. And the ones who will win souls aren't those who preach the message often enough, but who get to know people enough that they can really see Christ in them.

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