St. Elizabeth demonstrating Christlike character.

Wisdom in Serving the Poor - Chapter 2

The Volunteer's Christlike Character

Many churches working in mission to the poor have experienced a harvest of good fruit born out of this ministry. Sometimes a family that has been helped by a church will attend services, eventually becoming members of the church. (cf. James 2:1-9)  The church’s members are also blessed by doing this work of God; many have testified to a transforming spiritual experience . Many people have a heart for the poor and will join a church that shares their sense of mission to the needy.

The church that embarks upon such a mission will know hard work and even some frustrations. The church that perseveres in service to the poor will also know the joy of the Lord and will know with satisfaction that they are operating in the center of God’s will for His Church.

The first chapter describes an “ideal interview,”  a domestic missionary encounter with an applicant for material assistance.   It must be pointed out that the church volunteer at the food pantry or other ministry will be seriously tempted in their zeal (spiritual motivation) or desire to make the sale or close the deal (fleshly motivation)  to think and act as though this one interview will be the only chance he has to see results from his offer of prayer and of his love for his needy brother or sister. 

First, this interview will not be this particular person’s only encounter with the church and its ministry.  I mean that, contrary to your natural inclinations, this person will continue to come to the ministry for ALL the things necessary for life.  Yes, I do mean that you should WANT “repeat customers.” 

Ministry is an act of teaching.

Remember that the essence of teaching is repetition.  If we are to teach a needy person that they really are loved for who they are – a unique human person made in the image and likeness of God, then it will take repeated proofs of that.  Chances are this person is wounded emotionally and finds it quite difficult to truly believe that anyone, much less God Himself, really does love them and care what happens to them.  So rare indeed is this kind of Godly love that they will need repeated doses of this powerful medicine before healing can begin to take place.

If we are to teach a needy person that they really are loved for who they are – a unique human person made in the image and likeness of God, then it will take repeated proofs of that. 

The true art of ministry, whether it is that to the poor or any other person-to-person ministry such as counseling, teaching, etc., is to walk the fine line between helping a person to own their problems and develop the willpower to take consistent action to overcome their problems without the person being helped becoming dependent on the helper. 

It is also an art (aka grace) to avoid becoming co-dependent on the person being helped.  How does one walk this narrow path?  Generally speaking, the answer is only by the minister’s being themselves accountable to an overseer skilled in ministry who himself or herself has borne over time good fruit and lasting fruit.  The minister in a food pantry should consult regularly with the head of the ministry for advice.

Humility is the key.

The key to successful ministry in the way described above is  Humility.  We cannot be attached to seeing good fruit or “success.”  One of the best ways to develop the virtue of humility is by always remembering the New Testament teaching of “sowing the seeds.” 

Jesus taught us that even when dealing with the same person we haven’t been alone.  God’s great love for every individual has caused Him from that person’s birth to the present to continually bring into that person’s life those who have spoken the truth in love.  These have been the true “servants who have only done their duty.”  They have sowed the seeds for God into the soil of that person’s life. 

Who knows which sower will have the satisfaction of seeing “results?”  Chances are in fact quite good that you the minister will not.  Be content with being a sower of seeds rather than a “closer of the deal,” and humility will begin to take root in your soul, and you will become a purer and purer vessel for communicating God’s authentic love to others. 

Chances are good that you will not see the fruit of the seeds you are sowing.

Even if you are ministering to a person you know you’ll never see again (perhaps he’s a transient just asking for a meal or bus ticket,  or perhaps the family is about to move to another city), learn to trust in Divine Providence enough to give freely just what God wants you to give and nothing more. 

Don’t overdo it and get pushy with your agenda for a needy person thinking in your pride that you are perfectly clear about God’s agenda and timing, or your ministry will have the opposite effect of what you really desire, that is, driving people away from the Lord.

Rely on the Holy Spirit.

This brings us to the final point which must be made: develop a constant reliance of the inspiration and intervention of the Holy Spirit in our ministry, and of course, in every day of our life.  God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, our Triune God, is the One Jesus promised to send once He returned to the Father.  He is the One who will never leave us alone, who is our Advocate. 

The Christian who is walking in the Spirit is the only one capable to doing God’s work.  Remember that the Church, not to mention the World, is full of people who do work.  Sadly, only too few have begun to lead a life of repentance which gives them the power of the Holy Spirit and effectiveness in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth (what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer).

Up next, Interviews and Evangelism.

Written by Mike Firmin, founding Executive Director of Golden Harvest Food Bank.