One of the biggest challenges for any church holding a benevolence (assistance) ministry is the delicate balance between stewardship and mercy. In every situation where people ask for money or other tangible assistance, there are two biblical responsibilities that we specifically try to balance:
- The stewardship of the gifts God has given—gifts that are generously and sacrificially donated to our BAM fund by Bethel members and attenders. (Wisdom)
- The call for those who have received mercy to show mercy. In other words, as Christ’s ambassadors, we are called to show mercy and bring reconciliation to those in need, just as He has done with us! (Compassion)
Both responsibilities involve the grace of God's goodness given to us in material wealth and the grace of our giving to those in need, where we display the character of God to a hurting world.
Bethel leadership has determined that the best way for us to offer help is through relationship. Therefore, we do not offer immediate or emergency assistance. Conducting an interview allows us to explore at a deeper level what is behind the person’s request, to hear what is going on, ask good questions, pray with the client, and discuss together what might be possible solutions.
For several years, this has been our effective model. Other churches in our community have looked to Bethel for resources and help as they have created similar benevolence programs. Bethel has grown to be known in our community as a generous and compassionate place for people to receive care and help. In fact, in the past 36 months, we have assisted 780 families in our BAM ministry.
As we have recently navigated these calls for mercy, however, two realities have begun to collide:
- Our donations to BAM have been declining
- The needs of the people coming for help have been increasingly complex and the financial amounts requested have nearly doubled
These competing realities have caused our BAM leadership to PAUSE and consider what God might be doing in our midst. We have started asking the question, “Is God once again asking us to take up leadership in our community and push our church and others to another level of assisting those in need?
After much prayer and discussion, our BAM staff and volunteers agreed that we needed to take a few months to re-evaluate all our BAM processes and procedures. The BAM team is currently in the midst of that strategic period. We are continuing to help those in need in our Bethel body, in our community through community partners, and with other church partnerships. We haven’t stopped helping, we’ve only reduced our footprint for a few months as we examine and ponder steps forward.
To help guide us, all BAM volunteers and staff are reading together a book by Brian Fikkert and Kelly Kapic called “Becoming Whole.”
This book is a follow-up companion to a book that we have used a lot in our ministry called, “When Helping Hurts.”
We are digging deeper into the puzzle, not just realizing that “Jane is poor and needs help”, but asking the harder question of “WHY”. WHY IS JANE POOR AND IN NEED OF HELP (often repeated help)? The answer is as simple as it is wide and complex: helping the poor flourish spiritually is connected to helping them flourish physically.
As Fikkert notes in Becoming Whole, “One of the key points of When Helping Hurts is that we need to stop treating the symptom—material poverty—and start treating the underlying causes of that symptom. Yes, God has a special concern for the materially poor. But as we have seen, God’s goal for them is much bigger than simply eliminating their material poverty by dumping food, clothing, and shelter onto their laps. Rather, His desire for poor people—and for all human beings—is that they are restored to full human flourishing.”
Fikkert goes on to say, “Jesus cared for whole people—body, soul (mind, affections, and will), and relationships. Jesus cared deeply enough about every square inch of the cosmos to be tortured unto death to save it. Hence, they (the poor) need a community in which the triune God and loving people communicate, ‘You are loved. You have gifts. You are precious. You bear the image of God Almighty. You are called to work. God is with you. We are with you. And when you fail, God still loves you and we do too.’ These are not just sentimental words. By God’s grace, these words actually change people—and they change us. Over time, these messages of grace—communicated in the context of deep community with God and others—provide the support necessary for poor people to find and keep work. They discover who they are, not in isolation, but within the security of God’s family. Human beings are transformed into the image of whatever god they worship, so at the core of effective poverty alleviation is worship of the one true God!”
We are praying and seeking God for answers to what that might look like at Bethel. These are difficult conversations as we seek to balance mercy and stewardship. We covet your prayers as we navigate these complexities, trusting the One who has engraved each of our names on the palms of His hands! We pray collectively as David did in Psalm 139:23-24:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting!”