I also struggle with the fact that so many who need help in church either won't or can't ask for help because of stigma. The church might help the poor, but it views the poor as helpless. Many who receive help begin to expect and demand help because they begin to believe they are helpless and stuck where they are.
The big challenge for a church centers on how we help those in need within the church while at the same time helping those outside our church walls who also need help. How do we do it in a way that helps that person or family gain resources so that they can in turn help others and represent Jesus. Many who are poor love Jesus and praise Jesus and are great witnesses of the grace and peace that Jesus provides, but many who are poor are unable to assist others in the manner in which Jesus calls us because of the effort it takes for them to simply survive. While we focus on teaching people how to be disciples through classes and lunch meetings, perhaps we can best show people how to be disciples by showing them how to get their hands dirty by helping or assisting someone else.
And that is the next challenge isn't it? How do we help people without hurting them or causing them to become dependent. If a person in my church has a financial need, I can give them money. I help the short term need, but I don't solve the long term problem. Sometimes an emergency does come up and all a person needs is a one time gift. But many times they need rent money, or utility money, or food money, because of a long term financial habit. If I simply give them rent money, I have only delayed the problem. When I refuse to help again, they simply move on to the next church or charity. I have to somehow earn the right to assist them financially by gaining their trust and by helping them discover a better way to live financially so that they change the scenario they currently live in.
The scripture I am focusing on this week is in Acts 4 (ESV)
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
In verse 32 we find that they were of one heart and soul. They were unified in who they were as the body of Christ. There wouldn't have been a struggle or worry that someone was getting more than someone else. Their concern would have been to simply bless one another and then share in the joy of that blessing. The passage continues that grace was given to them all and that there was not a needy person among them. Woah! Did you catch that! Not a needy person among them. Somehow, someway, they were able to build a common relationship of trust that they were able to give to those who needed some help and do it in such a way that the entire community prospered.
Perhaps one of our first tasks as a church is to help the needy who live in our church. What steps can be made to remove the barriers in their lives? I'm not suggesting that everyone has to live in a very nice house, but in the US a proper home would have heat, running water, and provide a safe environment. If a family has a need that would reduce their burden, shouldn't we as the church help take care of that burden? In that action wouldn't the world be better able to see Jesus?
I know there are needy in our community and need across the world. But I think that is a part of the point. Let us first take care of those who have needs in our church and help them gain the ability to manage more resources so that there are more people with more money who are able to assist those outside the church with needs.
So what do you think? Should we continue to help the needy outside the church while ignoring those with needs inside our church?