Yesterday, I got a phone call from a woman who saw our ministry in the phone book.  She called to ask if Special Gathering would give her money to help with Christmas.  Because of IRC restrictions, I cannot use money given to The Special Gathering which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community for any purpose, except for which they were given.  That purpose is to evangelize and disciple people who are developmentally disabled.  In other words, we cannot use any funds to help the general population, only for people who are developmentally disabled.  I explained our situation to the woman.

I could feel the pain in her voice when she asked, “Is there any place I can get help?”

I mentioned a church in the area that is known for their benevolent giving.  “I called them,” she said.  “They won’t help me.” 

“Have you called your own church and asked for help?” I inquired.

“I don’t go to church.  I have a job.  I have to work for a living.”

“I understand that,” I said to her, trying to be as gentle as I could.  “I also work for a living.  Actually, almost everyone who goes to church works for a living.  But these hard-working church members value their relationship with the Lord and each other enough that they take time to attend.”

I explained that in hard times most churches are also strapped for funds.  Their members are not able to give as much as they have in the past.  Therefore, the limited funds a church has must be used for people who are members and who have been supportive in the past.  “Churches usually run on tight budgets. They have almost nothing left at the end of each month.

“Let me suggest that you align yourself with a church.  Then the leadership will know you and see your commitment to the Lord and they will be able to give to you in the future.”  I apologized again and she hung up the phone.  Like most churches, I receive these types of calls almost daily.

When I worked in a traditional church–rather than an parachurch ministry, it was my responsibility to field these calls.  Therefore, for almost 25 years, I’ve tried to be sensitive and lovingly when speaking to these hurting, helpless people who have needs.  Here are some of the things I observed during that time.

  1. Somehow, the general public has acquired the notion that–like the government–the Church can print money, thereby giving the impression that there are unlimited resources. 
  2. I’m also concerned that much like this dear lady, people believe that the church is populated by a bunch of rich, fat-cats who don’t work but have unlimited funds. 
  3. During those years when I served in a church office, thousands of dollars were distributed to help people.  However, not one person came back to thank the congregation.  No one became a member of the church.  Not one person even visited the church.
  4. Church members who had needs almost never came to ask for help.  Not that there weren’t needs.  Not that help wasn’t given.  But we found out about the need through a third party or through personal inquiry.  When a need was detected, help would be given.  Thanks and gratitude was generously given back to the congregation.
  5. Churches must be careful during hard times but congregations cannot lose their heart for outreach. 

Please don’t get me wrong.  I really wish I could have helped the woman who called and her family.  I feel that she probably has a genuine need.  However, that need is no less pressing that church members who have sacrificed, cared, attended and who now find themselves in a place of needing help.

In my sphere of pastor friends, there is a huge arch of variances in how to deal with these situations.  One friend sincerely believes that the church is remiss to become a social service organization.  He believes that we are to be charitable in our love and giving to people.  However, he has seen that too often the needs out weigh the ability to meet them.  At that point, the social outreaches can engulf and overpower the person’s desire to share the gospel.   

On the other end of the spectrum, I know of a wonderful associate pastor who has determined to leave his church. He knows that the church can no longer afford his salary and fund the extensive food outreach that they sponsor.  He realizes that the elders will soon have to make a choice.  Their commitment to social outreaches will mean that he will be asked to try and find another church.  He doesn’t want to put them in that position.  Therefore, he is making plans to find another position. 

I stand with Psalm 45.  There are some things that are too high for me to understand.  I only wish that there was an unlimited spigot that could be turned on for hard working people who have serious needs.  But I’m pragmatic enough to know that spigot doesn’t exist.

When faced with genuine need, we must do what we can to meet that need.  However, while being as gentle as a dove in dealing with persons with whom we are confronted, we are also to be as wise as a serpent.  Know all the while that prayer can help and change lives.  I could not give the woman on the other end of the line money, but I can pray and prayer knows no limits. 

Have you recently faced a situation for which you seemed to have no answer?  Were you able to help?  How did you pray for the person or situation?