Thursday, February 03, 2011


By Keith Giles

This week I want to share a long list of valuable lessons I've learned over the last few years when it comes to serving others. Keep in mind that a lot of what I learned here had to be experienced. Even as I share this with you I understand that reading about this is no substitute for actually experiencing it for yourself. Hopefully as you move forward in your own journey with serving people you'll discover the truth of these observations in your own heart.

As you take your first tentative steps into compassion ministry, you'll need to know what to expect. Here are some basic things I've discovered in my journey serving others in our community:

*Consistency Is Vital - We started ministry at the motel in Santa Ana almost 8 years ago. Over time we've consistently come every month with a bounce house, games, snacks and a puppet show for the kids who live in this motel. For over four years we only blessed them. We never preached a sermon or passed out maps to our Church. (Although we weren't shy about sharing with them if they had need or if they asked us why were doing this for them.)

Recently, in our fifth year, we started passing out free groceries and asking them if we can pray with them about anything. Why? The goal of the ministry is to show the love of Jesus to them in tangible ways. Not to market our church or to get them to buy something. We have intentionally withheld a sermon or an evangelistic message so that we create the question in their minds- "Why?" We want people to respond to our compassion by asking "Why would you come out here and bless us like this every month?" When they ask us (and they eventually do) we then share with them the difference that Jesus has made in our hearts and lives.

Having no agenda disarms them and, more importantly, demonstrates that we really are only interested in loving them and blessing them in practical ways.

*You WILL Get Burned. It's Part Of The Process - A fellow compassion ministries pastor once suggested that we publish a guide to help local churches serve the poor. He wanted to include a section that would help prevent them from getting burned by some of the poor who take advantage of our goodwill. I protested against this quite vocally because the best lessons I've learned in loving the poor have come from the numerous times I've been played like a violin. Without those experiences of being lied to, taken advantage of and played for a fool I wouldn't have a shred of discernment regarding the poor. Getting burned is part of the process. Try to learn from it. The biggest challenge is to get burned and continue to love people and bless them, even knowing they might be playing you.

*Bigger Is Not better - For the longest time our ministry to the families in the motel was pretty much my wife, my two elementary-age sons and one other woman from our church. We still managed to put together great games for the kids, snacks, puppet shows and a meaningful ministry to the families who live in this motel. Sometimes having a massive ministry footprint means that the people you're ministering to get lost in the hype. I'd rather sit down and share a sandwich under a tree with one homeless guy than have a massive army of people running a huge event where the poor feel like outsiders.

*Don't Pet the Poor - Early on I was warned not to treat the poor as a project or an outreach. When we do this we end up treating them like people who are less than the rest of us. The goal in serving the poor is to make them feel like an equal human being. Look them in the eye. Laugh with them. Learn their story. Pray for them during the week. Get to know them. If you can think of your ministry as being more about making new friends (who happen to be living in poverty) and less about fixing these poor people you'll be fine.

*Don't Attempt To Cure Poverty In Your City - This is a common mistake for those who start off doing compassion ministry. In their zeal to bring justice to the poor they get off target and begin to see their ministry as a grandiose scheme to end poverty forever in their city. The sad thing is that when we do this we stop caring for the actual people who are in need. If our focus can remain on finding a few people and learning how to love them we'll be closer to the heart of Jesus. One of my early mentors, David Ruis, used to communicate it this way: "What do you see and what do you have?" Meaning, start with the people in front of you who have a need. Ask yourself what you have that you could share with them. Befriend people and learn to love them.

*It's About Sharing, Not Giving - Giving to the poor, although important is not what we're necessarily called to as followers of Jesus. We're called to share. Giving means writing a check and walking away (and taking the tax break on our IRS return). Sharing means taking something that is mine and giving it away to someone who needs it more than I do. That's an investment. That's also about friendship and relationship, not compassion from a distance.

*Befriend A Few and Learn To Love Them Deeply - When we first started our Motel Ministry I had grand visions of leading huge outreach teams to lead worship and preach the Gospel and rescue hundreds from the despair of poverty. God quickly corrected my vision and showed me one small family living in the motel. Love them, He said. Get to know them. Invite them to your house for lunch.

For the first two years or so that was the main focus of our ministry in that motel. The difference was that this ministry soon became less about ending poverty in that motel and more about the struggles of my new friends, Mike and Pam and their two children.

*You Will Learn More From Them Than You Teach - My relationship with the families at the motel has taught me more about courage and forgiveness and humility than I could have ever learned from reading a book or a blog or listening to a sermon. The things I've heard and seen and experienced by being in relationship with these wonderful people has impacted me greatly.



Ransomed~Redeemed said...

I love it! Thanks for sharing. I think you were the one doing an outreach at a motel my mother lived in. She mentioned a really amazing guy who visited their hotel and brought food. Said you guys were the real deal. ;-) Bless you, Alida w5

Claudia Macias said...

I want to start a feed the hunger ministry at my church with a couple of other members..where can we start with this ministry?? I just don't know how to begin...any suggestions please