How the Local Church Can Detoxify Benevolence: 3 Practical Steps (and a bonus!)

For the last 6 years Shawn Janes has been serving as the Outreach Director at 12Stone Church, a multi-campus church with nine locations serving Gwinnett, Hall, and Barrow counties. The Outreach Department at 12Stone Church consists of Local and Global Missions as well as Benevolence Ministry. Shawn has been creatively implementing healthier models of ministry in all the above ministries. In the post below, he shares with us some crucial lessons he has learned as he has worked to move 12Stone to more responsible approaches to their benevolence ministries.

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Six years ago when I began leading our church’s Outreach Department I had little knowledge about working with the materially poor or the church’s role in supporting them.  At first, I enjoyed giving people money for their bills, providing food, and ensuring they kept a roof over their head.  It was empowering to be the hero for someone who, in my observation, couldn’t manage these problems on their own.  I loved seeing the joy on their faces as we helped to rescue them from the crisis they had found themselves in.  Besides, who else is better positioned to help those living in the margins of society than the local church? Isn’t this what Jesus commands of us in Matthew 10, 25, etc.…?   

It didn’t take long to see a trend forming as those we helped came back seeking additional assistance.  Our giving had created an entitled expectation that ultimately developed into dependency.  Our short-term solutions weren’t working.  It wasn’t long into this process that I began reading books like “Compassion, Justice & the Christian Life: Rethinking Ministry to the Poor” and “When Helping Hurts”. (see below for purchase)  For the first time I started to see the material poor as valuable, resourceful, and gifted.  This revelation led to some major shifts in how we serve people within the Benevolence Ministry of our church.  Here are a few insights we learned in the process.


1. Scheduled Benevolence Time

Currently, we have a team of skilled and trained volunteers that lead our Benevolence ministry.  They meet with people once a week on Monday nights from 6:30pm – 7:30pm.  Prior to setting a scheduled time for Benevolence, our process was scattered and without boundaries.  We were reactive with "solutions" and felt pressured to provide an immediate answer.  Problems we thought were crisis were actually chronic.  Establishing parameters in when and how we serve others was critical in maintaining a healthy environment for everyone.

2. Establish Guidelines Consistent with Your Resources

 You need to do this. Determine what level of help you will offer to someone who walks in off the street as compared to a member who is engaged and has tenure with the church.  We would love to offer everyone the same level of assistance, but our resources just won’t allow it.  Because we are clear about our limitations, we rely heavily on our partnerships in the community.

3. Define Your Types of Assistance

 Every community is different.  Based on our demographics, we landed on two primary long-term solutions in our Benevolence Ministry.  We will often still help with bills, food, etc…, but there is an understanding to participate in one or both of the following options.

  1. Financial Coaching: We have found that several of our clients have financial resources, but don’t know how to manage them.  It is shocking to see how many people don’t understand how to budget.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Did your parents talk to you about money?   Mine didn’t.
  2. Counseling:  We usually get about 15-30 minutes of time with people.  It’s really not enough to carve through the symptoms and identify what is going on.  We work with several Christian Counselors who can help people identify the root cause of what’s going on and decide if they want to do something different.  Typically, we will help people get into three counseling sessions.  We also require them to pay $10 of the counseling cost.  This payment is minimal, but important.  Unless people are contributing to the process it likely won’t have much value.
  3. The SolutionThere is only one solution.  As one of our counselors said, “only Jesus can heal the pain he has allowed”.  Unfortunately pain is part of the process of change.  Until your pain exceeds your fear, you probably won’t do anything different.  Think about this in your own life.  Money, fitness, relationships.  Once you got sick and tired of being sick and tired, you probably made a change.  What if pain is a part of God’s process and we swoop in and rescue them. Please note: I’m not saying this is always the case, but you’ll need a level of discernment before you decide to provide immediate relief for people.  What if all you gave them was prayer?  Don’t we believe the Spiritual has power over the natural?  How often we forget this.  Can you be okay if someone leaves the church and they’re not happy with you, the church, or God?  That’s a hard and necessary lesson to learn.  As compassionate followers of Christ, we want to help people, and that often leads to a material transaction driven by our own discomfort. Our teams are trained to listen and pray with people as if they are in the context of a prison.  What would you offer someone in prison if you couldn’t provide something tangible? You’d offer them Christ.

Bonus: Ask yourself, "Who’s really the client here?"

Someone once challenged me to consider if I was the mission.  When I sit across from a person experiencing material poverty it is often not difficult to distinguish who’s who.  "Poor" in the bible is not only defined as material lack, but often spiritual as well. Consider these descriptions from the Greek definition of poor in the bible.

  • One who slinks and crouches. 
  • Often roving about in wretchednessTo cower down or hide
  • To be destitute of honor
  • Lowly
  • Afflicted
  • No rich endowment of Spiritual treasure

It is unfortunate that some people wear their poverty for the world to see while the rest of us go silently undetected.  I have often found that the materially poor, whether here in the U.S. or around the world, have a deeper understanding and dependence on God than I do.  God often uses the poor to sanctify those of us in ministry.  This is probably the greatest revelation I have discovered in serving the poor.  I’m frequently asking God why he has put this person in front of me and what he wants me to learn.

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The books Shawn Janes found transformative for his approach to ministry:

Posted on April 13, 2015 .