Wednesday, February 02, 2011

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY



Part 1 of 5

Over the last several years I have been involved in serving the poor here in Orange County, California. During this time I have learned a lot about what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to serving the least and the forgotten.

In the upcoming series of articles I will do my best to provide practical insights and information about what serving the poor looks like. I hope to inspire many of you to step outside your comfort zones and begin to serve the poor in your own community.

Whether you volunteer at a local soup kitchen or if you lead a small group or a church team to go out and minister to the poor I hope you can benefit from these articles and catch a vision for serving others.

I am very excited about this new series of articles. My prayer is that this will inspire many of you to take first steps into an outward expression of God's love for others. I welcome your feedback and your questions as we take a few weeks to explore this subject and wrestle with these ideas.

BEFORE WE START
This series will not be about building a case for the "Why" we serve the poor, instead I will assume that most of you reading this have already come to terms with the overwhelming Biblical evidence regarding God's command to care for the poor and the example of our Lord Jesus towards the sick, the broken and the outcast.

It is my firm belief that, as a follower of Jesus, serving the least and the forgotten in our culture is expected of us. Jesus was our blueprint for living the Kingdom life. His example to us compels us to leave our comfort zones and to seek out the lonely, the forgotten, the least and the lost in our society. Jesus himself made it very clear that those who sincerely love him will be found caring for the hungry, the poor, the lonely and the imprisoned (see Matthew 25).

For more on the Believers Biblical mandate to care for the poor please refer to the numerous Scriptural references (over 2,000) concerning Gods heart for the poor and His expectation of compassion and obedience from us.

CATCHING THE VISION
So, with the assumption of an understanding regarding our personal calling to serve the poor and to love them as we love Jesus, (and as Jesus has loved us), I will try to share some of what I've learned over the last few years regarding God's heart for the poor and how we can step forward in obedience to care for them.

HOW DO WE BEGIN?
One of the first things I did when I realized that God was calling me to lead a ministry to the poor, (or Compassion Ministry), was to seek out other leaders who were already caring for the poor around me. There was a church in my neighborhood that hosted a weekly luncheon for the poor in their parking lot. I was also aware that they had started a Men's Shelter and opened a local Thrift Store to fund the ministry. After a few phone calls I got in touch with the pastor in charge of this ministry and took him to lunch.

Over a cheeseburger I took notes and asked a lot of questions. From there I took this pastor's advice and got in touch with the chaplain of our local rescue mission. A meeting with this amazing gentleman proved very insightful and provided further understanding of what poverty in our community looked like and how best to help.

FIRST STEPS
If you feel called to start a ministry to the poor through your church, or small group, or just want to get involved in some way, here's what I recommend:

*Understand that this is a Spiritual Battle - Some of the people you are about to minister to are trapped in the most unbelievable darkness you can possibly imagine. They are bound by drug addictions, sexual perversion, demonic possession, mental illness, physical sickness and more. You will need to recognize that you are not enough. You are perfectly inadequate in every way. You will need the power of the Holy Spirit. You will require a complete dependence upon God for help. You will not last a second without Jesus as your example, friend and constant strength. Pray.

*Don't reinvent the wheel - If there's already a dozen ministries in your area who are serving the homeless there’s no point in starting another one. Partner with them and work together.

*Find out what causes poverty in your community - In Orange County there are several non-profit organizations who conduct annual surveys and publish community index reports on everything from education and crime to employment rates and homelessness. A call to your local Rescue Mission and/or the area Salvation Army office can probably put these reports into your hands. Learning what the specific causes of poverty and homelessness in your community are goes a long way to providing
your next step. NOTE: If you live in Orange County, California you can visit www.PovertyInTheOC.com to find more resources and info to help you understand poverty in the OC.

*Become an expert in what causes poverty in your city - Soon you'll be teaching others about the problem, and the solutions. Because I've taken the time to study the causes of poverty in Orange County, I've had numerous invitations from local churches to come and share what I've learned. Part of my personal mission is to help others to see what I see and to catch a vision for serving the poor. This is a great way to do that.

*Piggy-back with others who have more experience and learn from them - When our group wanted to minister to prostitutes we did our best to find others who were experienced in dealing with this issue. When we felt called to minister in motels we partnered with the local Rescue Mission who was already organizing church groups to address the issue. Don't assume you know the needs, or the best methods for helping the poor. Every city is different. Every category of ministry (homeless, elderly,
veterans, prostitutes, drug addicts, battered women, etc.) is unique. Learn before you step out.

*Build a team who can serve with you - Don't start out alone.
Even if it's only one other person, you need to have a partner in this adventure. Pray together. Research the needs and brainstorm your approach to ministry.

*Don't blindly copy what someone else is doing - Every community is different, and I believe we need to begin caring for "our poor" first. The homeless or the low-income family in your area is not the same as the homeless or the poor in San Francisco, or New York or Chicago, etc. Take cues from others, but don't assume you can "cut and paste" what one ministry does into your community and be
successful.

*Start close to home - The poor who live within ten miles of you are "your poor" and getting to know them, and understanding their needs and what keeps them in poverty is crucial. Try not to do long distance ministry to the poor. Find ways to be in fellowship with those you are serving.

[END PART 1]

4 comments:

Jeremy Myers said...

Thank you for this post.

After reading it, I did about 30 minutes of research online, and found five organizations in my area that I am going to call tomorrow and see how I and my family can get involved.

I look forward to the other posts in this series.

Kevin said...

Wonderful work, thanks for putting it together. I know blogs can be another one of those painstacking tasks that gets little notice and even less appreciation, much like serving the poor can sometime get. I've been enriched by reading it and am excited to have a roadmap for some practical aspects of getting out of my comfort zone and being biblically and socially relevant.

Thanks Again,

Kevin K.

Karla said...

I have felt led to serve the poor but did not know where to start. Your post was very helpful. Thank you.

Bill Habing said...

Keith, nice teaching, After many years, with the poor, We have learned that there are a few standard ways to deal with problems in society. Most of the time we institutionalize the poor, the criminals, unwed mothers, the list goes on. Ministry can institutionalize, but love won't. If we want to do the right thing, we will invite the poorest of the poor, into our homes, spend time with them make them part of our own life. This is not radical, it is the least we can do. The poor will always be with us, because we can! Love you all, spread the love 13