God Is At Work—Even In Our Mistakes
Adapted from Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry.
The work of creating a benevolence ministry that provides material assistance to those in need without creating or perpetuating unhealthy dependencies is challenging. It’s important for churches and ministries pursuing this work to come from a position of humility. Approaching church benevolence with the right posture should drive us to the cross, as it creates the opportunity for us to see our own sin and our own inadequacy. We cannot independently generate change in systems, people, and communities, but that does not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit.
This inadequacy often shows up in the mistakes we make in ministry—cases of “when helping hurts” when we misdiagnose problems or mis-apply assistance. But how we address the mistakes we make can either add to problems or become part of an ongoing relationship that leads toward growth and healing for all involved.
Susan*, a woman living alone in a mobile home developed a relationship with a local church. She reached out for assistance from the church to purchase kerosene for a heater during the winter, which the church’s deacons provided. However, over time, they found themselves buying kerosene for her more frequently, even during milder temperatures.
The benevolence team eventually was able to develop a relationship with Susan, but she continued to request financial assistance and resisted engaging with the church in other ways. The team decided to talk to Susan about long-term options, since, realistically, they could not continue supporting her financially. Their transactional relationship served a purpose for a specific time and for a specific need, but things needed to move from relief into development. Despite their best intentions, the way in which the team communicated their decision not to continue to provide financial support led to Susan feeling rejected and awkward, not fully understanding their actions.
Susan admitted her feelings about the situation to one of the deacons, and the Spirit moved in their hearts to repent, to apologize to her for their handling of the situation, and to ask for her forgiveness. After that, despite the harm caused, God restored the relationship. Susan began to regularly attend their church services and other church functions.
The situation ultimately wasn’t healed because of anything the benevolence team did or didn’t do — the Lord was at work throughout it all. As one of the deacons shared, “I think we did everything wrong that we could have done wrong in that situation, but God was at work in that… Our church is largely made up of upper middle class people with college degrees. We don’t have a lot of experience with poverty. We desire to help people and it’s a genuine good desire, but we don’t always know what we’re doing. But in the midst of that, God is teaching us and showing us how to interact with people who have different challenges, and even showing us ways that we can learn from them and ways that He’s growing us.”
Next Steps in Benevolence Ministry
In the midst of our mistakes and our shortcomings, God is working to heal broken relationships and to restore all of creation to Himself. If your church or ministry is seeking to navigate the complexities of creating a benevolence ministry that helps without hurting, we invite you to join us for our late summer cohort of Helping without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry. Through this six-week online class, you will
- Discover a biblical foundation for responding to requests for financial help
- Gain skills and confidence to develop a holistic, relationship-focused benevolence ministry
- Learn tools and processes to address material poverty in your community in effective, transformational ways
* name changed for privacy