Archive for the ‘outreach’ Category

Helping those in need

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse. —Proverbs 28:27*

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on US and global economies. Hundreds of thousands of businesses have closed for varying pandemic-related reasons. The food service industry here at home has been hit particularly hard.  Thousands of restaurants have closed, with most having no hope of reopening. The middle class is shrinking, leaving a fractured nation that is increasingly becoming a land of haves and have nots. History has demonstrated that as the middle class shrinks and the lower class grows, civil unrest often increases.

To survive, many American families have had to dip into retirement savings, placing the future in question.  When savings are exhausted, losing a job can mean losing nearly everything.  The ability to pay a big mortgage, something common for young working couples today, often depends on the salaries of both spouses.  If even one of them loses their job, foreclosure becomes a distinct possibility! To stay afloat they must negotiate with lenders, which in the long run usually means increasing the size of their mortgages and/or tapping into short term savings and retirement accounts. Early retirement withdrawals are usually accompanied by additional fees.

On top of pandemic problems, even before COVID-19 economic globalization had given rise to thousands of large companies that are loyal to neither to their country of origin nor to their employees.   Workers, especially blue collar ones, are increasingly being treated like disposable commodities that are brushed into the trash bin like rubbish on a picnic table. Highly educated and skilled working professionals who lose their jobs and end up turning to the government for assistance are common today.  In my job working with the unemployed, I heard many lament, “I never imagined that I could end up in this situation.”  This can and must change.

Churches, especially those in large urban areas, are often unaware of the financial struggles of individuals and families in their area—even when those affected are members of the church. Many churches have lost touch with early traditions. The scriptures speak frequently about caring for those who share the faith.  This is an essential part of discipleship that helps the church set its own house in order.  In Acts chapter 6, the Apostles appointed seven deacons to assist in the distribution of food to local widows, who were followers of Christ.  James 1:27 tell us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

Even clearer instruction comes straight from the mouth of our Lord in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Building a healthy church family is essential to serving those in need outside the church.  Brett Eastman has served as the small groups champion in several of the largest mega churches in the country including Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.  Eastman writes:

“If you want to create a church community that really cares for one another, the best way to do it is through small groups. When small groups become the vehicle for care-giving, the whole church gets involved in sharing one another’s burdens—a much more personal approach than relegating the task to a committee.  The whole congregation should be making hospital visits, taking meals to people when they’re sick or something’s happened, doing childcare when someone’s in crisis and giving money when somebody’s lost a job.”

Small groups in churches set the conditions for encouraging personal intimacy and trust building—essential elements of loving Christian relationships.  Only by sharing our hopes, fears, cares and concerns do we really get to know other believers well.

Small groups also enable churches to develop outreach ministries. One way for small groups to quickly make a difference is by reaching out to Christian charities in their church’s local area.  Charities are always in need of volunteers, financial supporters, prayer warriors and other resources.  The possibilities are endless. You can’t take care of everybody, but you can take care of somebody.  The closest ministry filed for any church is the one inside its doors. The largest ministry field for every church is the one just outside the church doors.   

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. —Proverbs 19:17

*All Bible quotes are ESV.

Easing the Pain of Unemployment

Jobless-not-hopelessYou take my life when you do take the means whereby I live. –William Shakespeare

In Romans chapter 12, St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (ESV) Many churches attempt to follow his advice by hosting various support groups. There are groups for addiction recovery, divorcees, singles and those grieving the death of a loved one to name a few.

Unfortunately, there is another group in great need of support, but often overlooked by church ministries—the unemployed. Most people who become unemployed go through a series of emotional stages resembling this.

Initially, there is the shock of losing a job. This might initially give way to denial or disbelief like, “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This sometimes gives way to feelings of anger or outrage towards those deemed responsible for the job loss. As the anger slowly subsides, sadness can follow. If the period of unemployment is prolonged, sadness can lead to the onset of depression. Isolation from others during this period worsens the situation.

To varying degrees, all of us derive some sense of worth from the jobs we do and the relationships we have. Losing a job can be every bit as devastating as a divorce or the loss of a loved one.

Those who have lost their jobs are in tremendous need of contact with and the support of others. This is where churches can weigh in for the unemployed. Options for helping are limited only by the imagination. The ShareFaith website published a very useful article in 2011 titled “Seven Ways to Help the Unemployed in Your Church.” You can find it at this link: http://www.sharefaith.com/blog/2011/12/ways-unemployed-church/.

I particularly like suggestion #4, “Provide free workshops.” Workshops are a fantastic way to help your church’s unemployed. But why stop there? Unemployment in your local area opens the door to a church ministry reaching beyond the pale of your own churchyard. Consider forming a job networking group reaching out to the entire community.

The north Pittsburgh area where I live has two fantastic, faith-centered job networking groups that have helped hundreds cope with unemployment over the years. Both began as ministries inside the church, but grew into nonprofit, community outreach ministries. Check them out and then start thinking about how your church can form its own job networking group. There can never be too many!

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:2 (ESV)