One of the greatest blessings and curses that comes in ministry is in the area of helping others in need. Much of our ministries is filled with helping people in various kinds of need. This means that we are often approached at times that are inopportune for other parts of our daily work. In many larger churches their are individual ministers, office assistants, or other gate keepers who handle many of those who come seeking needs. They are able to direct them to the best kind of help they can get, and they free much of the pastoral staff and senior pastors to do what they are called to do. However, in the small-town church we are often the only person available on any given day to handle these needs and crisis’ that arise.
I was once running a spiritual gifts class at a church. When it came time to share with one another I revealed my strengths in preaching, teaching, and administration. I remember that several people were surprised that my weakest area was mercy.
One woman in the group commented, “I would think that a pastor would be quite strong in mercy.”
I replied, “Before, I entered ministry I was far higher in my gift of mercy. I think that it has been the years of having to judge whether people coming to me really had needs, or were just trying to swindle the system. It can leave you a lot less merciful when you are have to help or tell people you can’t help at times.”
I have added over twelve years in ministry since then. I would like to say the gift of mercy has returned. However, the responsibility of caring for accounts to help people in need and trying to determine who we can and cannot help still makes me a bit cold at times. I personally would love to help every person who comes to my door or to my church requesting help. Yet, we can’t help everyone.
I am really being challenged in just how involved a minister should be in managing or passing out funds or help for a church or ministry. In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles told the church at the time to pick leaders from among them to care for the needs of the widows and orphans. Their reason was that they could be devoted to prayer and teaching. While we as ministers are not the apostles, we are responsible for the spiritual life and training of our churches. Perhaps it would be best if we looked harder at what we should be passing off to others.
The following are some things I have learned from my own experience, from working with a well run food pantry, and working with other churches who have helping ministries. You may have other things to share, but I give you some things to advise you in doing helping ministries, especially people seeking financial help.
- Try to involve laity, or put laity in charge: The best run food pantry I have had the privilege of working with is completely run by laity. Reports are given to local church involved, but it is church members who run the entire pantry. It is also Biblical to let people gifted in their areas of mercy to do the needed work. This will also help to lower stress to you as a leader.
- Have written policies: Written policies help you to be able to explain to those seeking help what your ministry actually helps with, and clearly states what limits or requirements there may be to such help. You may want to include:
- Clarify the geographical area, in which your Helping Ministry is working. The churches and pantries that I have seen manage the best were clear as to who they were trying to help. It might be your particular village, town, or school district. Such limits guarantee who will be helped.
- Clarify the requirements needed for someone seeking assistance from your Helping Ministries.
- Often this may include proof of where they live.
- Proof of income, to qualify for need.
- Proof of where money is going. As example, you are helping with utilities it is usually most responsible to have a copy of a bill and write checks to the specific utility.
- Clarify the limits of your Helping Ministries.
- Is there a cut off to how much your helping ministry can or is able help? While we may want to help people without condition, we simply would run a ministry dry if all we did was give out money without any limit. This is irresponsible to those who work or give to help our ministry as well.
- Is there a limit on how often a person can come to seek help. A local food pantry may have on going help, but to help more people they may say that people can only receive a food box once a month. A ministry helping with utilities may limit such help to once a year. Such limits provide more people opportunity to get help, while helping to keep people from becoming tied to needing our help.
- Have a reporting system for your Helping Ministry. There should be some regular report that is given to the greater community of how funds have been distributed. This should not include names, but should include the amount of people or families helped. It should include what has been received into the ministry and what has been given out. People like to know that others are helped by what they give.
- Thank people who give and volunteer who help your Helping Ministry. People are more willing to help when they know they are appreciated.
Again, you may find some more specific needs that your particular ministry has. However, having such plans in place will help you in running stronger helping ministries. Hopefully, it will help to lower the stress to you if you are in charge of such ministries too. May you continue to be blessed as you pass on the blessings you have been put in charge of in your ministries.