Posts tagged #detoxifying

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 .

Redefining Ministry with the Poor: Three Cautions

Jason Williams, founder of the Aspire Movement, shares three cautions for those interested in leading congregations through a process of redefining ministry among the poor.

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Only God above could script a story like mine.

Growing up in the Washington, D.C. Metro area, my life was largely influenced by hip-hop culture, the go-go music scene and the crack epidemic. Fortunately for me, I could shoot basketball with the best of them and scored a Division I scholarship to George Mason University where I had a standout freshman season. The summer following my freshman year, reckless living caught up with me, and I was arrested and charged with three felonies for drug trafficking.

After a few more years of bad choices and serious consequences, I found myself surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ in an African American, Pentecostal church in the poorest part of Birmingham, Alabama. As a white guy, I never once felt marginalized in that church. It was there that I grew in my faith and calling to impact urban youth who followed similar paths as mine. My calling eventually led me to take a position as Urban Missions Pastor at a predominately white, suburban and affluent church—also in Birmingham.

I have had the privilege to lead our church in urban ministry for the past six years. In my time, I have experienced moments of great encouragement as well as times of deep sorrow for how we as a church view urban ministry and outreach. My church preaches the Word of God faithfully, generously gives half of our enormous budget to missions, and is comprised of some of the most godly people I have ever known. But like every church, we have our warts and blind spots and some of those show up ever so glaringly in cross-cultural ministry.

There are numerous stories I could share, but I’d like to limit this to how we have dealt with the challenges to redefining our philosophy of ministering to the poor in our city. If I were to say that everyone in our congregation agrees on both principles and methodology I would be exaggerating. With over 5,000 members, the process of change is slow. It takes a lot of time and energy to help others come to an understanding of empowerment and to change the way we quantify success in outreach.

Having walked through changes in this area, God has taught me the following principles that I believe could help you navigate your organization through a redefinition of ministry to the poor:

Value the Process.

First, please remember that God's timing is not ours.

When the realization finally comes that some poverty alleviation methods may actually hurt the very people we wish to empower, we can feel that everyone else should immediately “get it.” This can be dangerous.  Just because we may have been enlightened and learned new methods, it doesn’t mean our people will automatically respond in similar fashion. In fact, if your church is large it may take years to work through downloading a new way of thinking.

There is a great need for patience and humility. While navigating change can be frustrating and painful, value the process of what God is doing in your own life. His design is to conform you into His image as much as it is for you to help others.

Beware of the Sacred Cow.

Every church has a "legacy ministry" - you know, something that was started by a well-respected saint and is treasured by the congregation. Sometimes leaders, armed with new convictions that certain methods are "toxic", take it upon themselves to be the one to “destroy” the legacy ministry as a show of how harmful it is. While it may make you feel good that you have ten reasons that the sacred cow should be destroyed like the golden calf, this approach can cause you to lose the very capital you need to see changes occur.

I would suggest instead that you grow up a parallel opportunity that addresses similar needs. When you do this, people will learn for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Change happens when people experience the ministry for themselves. While we can be articulate in teaching, nothing replaces the learning that occurs when their skin is in the game.

Differentiate the Mandate from the Methods.

Remember that methods are just methods, and they are neither concrete nor infallible. To move people along in this area, avoid making them feel dumb for how they have operated and thought about ministry. Instead, point out the good, lead with encouragement and remember methods differ from mandates. We have a mandate to reach the poor in Scripture, what we don’t have is a mandate on how that work should be done. Sure, there are certain principles but carefully focus on winning people as opposed to winning arguments. You may win battles and lose the war. 

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Jason Williams is the Urban Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. He founded the Aspire Movement, a mentoring program empowering at-risk urban youth. He is married to Dr. Jessica Williams and has 3 children. 

Posted on March 24, 2015 .

BOOK REVIEW: Where the Cross Meets the Street

Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, recently wrote a book entitled Where the Cross Meets the Street: What Happens to the Neighborhood When God is at the Center. You should get it, read it, and share it with those with whom you work.

On a very cold day in Chicago, Noel took a break from his training walk for an upcoming pilgrimage to talk to me about his book and share his thoughts about how people like us can detoxify charity. First, a quick overview of the book, and then a few reflections on it's implications for Charity Detox.


Much like John Perkins's Quiet Revolutionwhich was highly influential in Noel's journey, Where the Cross Meets the Street is a memoir-like introduction to CCDA ministry. The book contextualizes the theology and practices of the CCDA in the pain and joy of his own story and the story of his barrio. Noel expressed to me that one of the main reasons he wrote the book was to remind practitioners that there is no "silver bullet." To the contrary, he says, we must engage our under-resourced neighborhoods with a "holistic approach" that is "complex and multi-dimensional." He contends that no one method, no matter how healthy and legitimate in it's own right, is capable of transforming a community. 

Noel's book is structured around the following diagram: 

Noel models well what he calls a Latino approach to theology because it integrates personal narrative, theological reflection, and contextualized practice. The book begins with Noel's story growing up in a nominally Catholic, immigrant family in Texas. This lays the foundation for his calling not only to a deep, personal faith but into ministry. From there he seamlessly weaves together stories about his own life, discussions of CCDA philosophy, and compelling narratives about La Villita, or Little Village, the barrio in Chicago where he and his family have lived for 25 years.

Noel's integrative teaching on theology and ministry begins with Incarnation, which refers to moving into the neighborhood among the people society has placed on the margins. Incarnation is what he considers the "linchpin to all effective ministry." He then gives one chapter each to the four other parts of the diagram: Proclamation and Formation, Demonstration of Compassion, Restoration and Development, and Confrontation of Injustice. 


I recommend this book whether you have never heard of CCDA, are brand new to it, or have been implementing its philosophies for years. It offers a healthy and honest critique of the primarily white, Westernized theology that has undergirded toxic approaches to charity and mission for years. Where the Cross Meets the Street has many implications for the process of detoxifying charity. Here are but a few:


Detoxifying one’s work may not be about strategy as much as it is about relationship.
— Charity Detox

I asked Noel why moving into the neighborhood is not just important but vital to the work of transformation. He spoke of the value of knowing people by name and being immersed in their stories over the course of many years. This alters the way one understands and responds to presenting needs. Charity, benevolence, or what Noel languages as "Demonstrations of Compassion" are often toxic because they suffer from a proximity disorder. If we are not rooted in people's lives and in the contexts in which they live, then we are always going to be limited in how we understand the path ahead. The way we label the problems, define solutions, and build strategies will miss the critical elements that only the long, hard, and quotidian work of neighboring can reveal. Noel's life and his book model the transformative power of knowing and being known as a neighbor rather than a service provider. Proximity allows us to be able to treat crises like crises and chronic issues like chronic issues. Detoxifying one's work may not be about strategy as much as it is about relationship.


One of Noel's most important critiques concerns how a truncated Gospel leads to unhealthy ministry. For example, he says that when "everything else is seen as a hook for proclamation" it reveals our underlying assumptions about the nature of the Gospel. His concern is that when one treats acts of charity or efforts to develop a community as bait for evangelism, it sets up toxic relationships and ultimately unhealthy models of engagement. He warns, "people are treated like projects, and no one wants to be someone else's project." Though Noel affirms that Proclamation and Formation as an indispensable aspect of biblical mission, it cannot stand alone or apart from the other elements. The same rule applies to the other pieces of the diagram. Therefore, the path toward responsible charity is not just about critically examining our programs. Detoxification requires us to look carefully at some of the biblical metaphors that define our work and see if their are other texts, images, passages that invite us into a more robust approach. EVERYONE needs to regularly recalibrate their theology with a vision of a Jesus on the margins who preached and healed, who compassionately fed the hungry and prophetically confronted the systems of power. 


Do what you are called to do, but do it with the recognition that your approach is not all that is needed.
— Noel Castellanos

Since responsible and transformative work in a community requires this holistic approach, I asked Noel what advice he would have for people who look at all these parts and wonder how in the world they can focus on something so big and complex. This is why, Noel affirms, that "collaboration is so important," which the stories in his book model really well. He reminds us that "there is no one person or church who can do it all well." Therefore, Noel advises, we have to develop relationships with people who can help us to mature in those where we struggle or lack experience. He shares about his own passion having been centered on Restoration and Development over the years and the importance of joining with others in recent years to do immigration reform advocacy. Noel's corrective to our one-dimensional tendencies is to "do what you are called to do, but do it with the recognition that your approach is not all that is needed." Detoxifying means knowing your strengths and developing partnerships with people, churches, and organizations that can help you participate in God's work in more holistic ways.


One of the great quotes from the book is when Noel writes, "When demonstrations of compassion reach their limits, you have to move toward development for people to find real freedom." I asked him to talk about how practitioners can know when they have reached those limits and what to do about it. He shared at length about the need to be honest with yourself if people in your ministries are simply becoming dependent or if they are being empowered to move forward. Noel challenges us to remember that we have to have less interest in promoting and sustaining our programs and more interest in seeing people flourish. This, I am learning, is one of the great challenges of detoxification - having the vision to set better objectives and the courage to let those objectives subvert our well-established methods. Noel advises that we place "measuring sticks" around the things that matter like dignity, interdependence, empowerment, and the like.  We have to let go of our affection for the types of things, like the good feeling we get out of giving things to others for free, that do not promote a more redemptive model. Otherwise, Noel warns, we end up with "bad compassion" that perpetuates problems. He says that we have to "be willing to admit where we are wrong and that we have areas to grow in."  Humility and confession, in turns out, are part of the necessary ingredients to start, sustain, and bring to completion the kinds of radical change many charity efforts need to go through. Detoxification is not just the process of transforming models, it is about being willing to be transformed ourselves.


As Noel reflected on the challenging process of changing long-held philosophies of ministry and well-established rules for operation, he offered some wise caution for people beginning that journey. He expressed concern for people who look at large, established organizations, like Lawndale CDC in Chicago or FCS in Atlanta, who are doing community development well. As important as seeing other, more successful models may be, it is easy to get discouraged at how big and successful they seem to be and how small and unsuccessful we feel. He reminds us that they were all small at one time, and they grew at the only pace that healthy things can grow - slowly! Detoxifying charity means we are committed for the long haul. Although it will come in slow and in small - painfully small - increments, change will come.


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Noel Castellanos has worked in full-time ministry in Latino, urban communities since 1982. He has served in youth ministry, church planting, advocacy and community development in San Francisco, San Jose, and Chicago. After serving on the Board of the Christian Community Development Association for many years, he established the CCDA Institute, which equips emerging church leaders in the philosophy of Christian Community Development, and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CCDA. Noel was appointed to serve on President Obamaʼs Council for Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships, and is a highly sought after speaker, motivator, and mentor to young leaders throughout the USA, and has a deep passion to serve and invest in the lives of leaders committed to serving the poor. Along with Where the Cross Meets the Street, Noel is the co-author of A Heart for the Community, New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry, and has contributed to various other books and publications, including Deep Justice in a Broken World, A Heart for the City, and Crazy Enough to Care (see below). He and his wife, Marianne, have three children; Noel Luis, Stefan, and Anna, and make their home in the barrio of La Villita in Chicago.

Posted on March 2, 2015 .

GUEST POST: How To Move from Betterment to Development

Believing that change needs to happen in the way charity, missions, or benevolence is practiced is one thing. Figuring out how to make that change is another! Author, innovator, veteran community developer, and 40-year practitioner of urban ministry, Bob Lupton speaks to the Charity Detox community about the ingredients for change.

Posted on November 18, 2014 .