you can dream it, you can do it." Walt Disney.
"Do whatever, whenever."
Two cans of corn grew into a beautiful example of churches
working together to help their neighbors.
New Covenant Church was born in south Florida in 1977. Its founders
included best-selling author Catherine Marshall and her husband, Guideposts editor
Leonard LeSourd. Members believed strongly in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind
and strength, and in loving their neighbors as themselves. Their joyful worship
almost immediately filled the middle school auditorium where they first met.
From the beginning, New Covenant helped "neighbors" who were
in need. Its outreach began with those two cans of corn, donated during a church drive.
The seeds grew and flourished. By 1995 it was time to expand "loving and
helping" beyond the walls of the parent church.
A core of dedicated individuals prayed about the next stage. And
prayed. And prayed. They were patient. They took each step only after they believed they
knew Gods leading. Slowly, surely, they laid the foundation.
Finally, Gateway Community Outreach came into being as a
multi-denominational "love your neighbors" ministry.
Gateway grew to partner with several dozen churches, including Jewish
synagogues. It serves more than 25,000 individuals yearly, and works with more than a
hundred county agencies.
Those two cans of corn matured like an acorn growing into a majestic
As we "love and help" our neighbors, what can we learn from the early church?
The fledgling church was wonderfully generous. But, though growing
rapidly, it was too small to help everyone. The Bible records four ways it
"stretched" its resources. We may not use identical methods today, but we should
know about them as we conduct our own ministries.
Relatives helped when they could.
"The church should take loving care of women whose husbands
have died if they dont have anyone else to help them. But if they have children or
grandchildren, these are the ones who should take the responsibility, for kindness should
begin at home supporting needy parents.
"The church should care for widows who are poor and alone in the
world ... But anyone who won't care for his own relatives when they need help, especially
those living in his own family, has no right to say he is a Christian. Such a person is
worse than the heathen" (1 Tim. 5:3-8; 3:16).
Those who could provided for themselves.
"Stay away from any Christian who spends his days in laziness
and does not follow the ideal of hard work we set up for you ... You never saw us loafing;
we never accepted food from anyone without buying it; we worked hard day and night for the
money we needed to live on, in order that we would not be a burden to any of you ... we
wanted to show you firsthand how you should work for your living. Even while we were still
there with you, we gave you this rule: He who does not work shall not eat.
"Yet we hear that some of you are living in laziness, refusing to
work ... In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we ... command them ... get to work, and
earn their own living" (2 Thess. 3:6-12).
Proverbs repeats that principle often. "Lazy people want
much but get little, while the diligent are prospering" (Prov. 13:4). And see Prov.
6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:9; 12:11; 12:14; 12:24; 12:27; 14: 23;15:19; 16:26; 18:9; 19:15; 19:24;
20:4; 20:13; 21:17; 21:20; 22:13; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 28:19.
Jewish teaching asserts that "the most
meritorious level of charity is helping someone to become self-supporting."
(Lisa Katz, http://judaism.about.com/od/beliefs/a/tzedakah_what.htm.)
Even Pablo Picasso said "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you
The Church asked consistent behavior.
"The church should care for widows ... if they are looking to
God for his help and spending much time in prayer, but not if they are ... running around
gossiping, seeking only pleasure and thus ruining their souls" (1 Tim. 5:5-7).
Today, that right to say "no" can apply to cases like
alcoholism or addiction. Compassion or circumstances, however, may lead a church to help
children despite their parents problems, a wife whatever her husbands
behavior, or addicts who are honestly trying to overcome substance abuse.
A church can choose whether, or when, to follow that precedent. But it
The early Church helped Christians first, then others.
"Let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while
we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't get discouraged and give up. That's why ...
we should always be kind to everyone, and especially to our Christian brothers" (Gal.
When my wife Yvonne wanted children, we bought health insurance with
good maternity coverage. But then she was fired for being pregnant. And we could no longer
pay the premiums.
New Covenant Church, which I attended but hadnt joined, paid the
premiums until we could find the income to keep the policy in force. They apologized for only
paying our insurance. If Id been a member, theyd have done even more. But they
met our most urgent need, and we thought it was wonderful!
The infant Church, too, took care of its members first. That was
differemt from the Old Testament. There, tithes were given to all the needy every
third year. But those tithes came from all the people. In contrast, the
early churchs money came from a small percentage of the population. It couldnt
Gods love compels us to reach out today, but we, too, have
limits. Just as with ancient Israel, it will take all of us to do the job. That
makes it important to support public "help" agencies. The result is that we
reach more people at a lower cost to each of us.
How can a church know its members needs?
No church can. Not of all its members, all of the time. But church
leaders can be familiar with the kinds of situations their people face.
When millionaire Bob Graham first ran for state office in Florida, his
"campaign gimmick" was to spend 100 days working side by side with ordinary
people all across the state. That "workday" program elected Graham. But it also
taught him about the lives and needs of Floridas real people.
Later, while Governor and then US Senator, Graham continued that
program one day a month. (For one workday, he drove our Orlando churchs senior
Programs like that are a tested technique. My first pastor reached new
people by helping them on their farms. It doesnt require a large time investment -
but can pay rich dividends.
What if no one in our church needs help right now?
Needs vary greatly from area to area and year to year. Weve lived
where homelessness was a major, heart-wrenching problem, and in towns where it hardly
existed. But if we think there are no needs in our church, it probably means we dont
know whats happening to our "sheep."
In all of the more than 80 cities where we worked during our
five-year homeless self-employment, we met working people who had trouble paying
for food and rent, couldnt go to the doctor, and "fell through the cracks"
in existing "help" programs.
In even the smallest church, people get sick or hurt. They
suffer layoffs. Companies go out of business. Crops fail. Husbands desert wives; wives
leave husbands. Natural disasters occur. If "love our neighbors" money
isnt needed in one month, it will be in another.
We can also respond to needs elsewhere, just as the early Greek church
helped Christians in Jerusalem. Many denominations have offices for disaster relief. And
local churches can donate to agencies like Habitat for Humanity, Compassion, World Vision,
Samaritans Purse, and many others.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
How did the early Church make sure its money was well spent?
Paul stressed accountability when he said "God knows we are
honest, but I want everyone else to know it too."
When Greek churches raised an offering for famine-stricken Christians in Jerusalem,
Paul sent the gift with several men to assure the donors their money would be safeguarded
and used properly.
"I am sending another well-known brother ... elected by the churches to
travel with me to take the gift to Jerusalem ... we are anxious that no one should find
fault with the way we are handling this large gift. God knows we are honest, but I want
everyone else to know it too" (2 Cor. 8:18-23).
Churches today achieve that purpose through methods ranging from having at least two
people count each offering to auditing the church books every year. Those steps verify
that church officials are honest and donations are being used properly. Thats as
important now as in Pauls day.
Accountability is also important for charitable non-profit corporations. Your public
library can tell you what percentage of a nonprofits income goes toward its goals.
Or check Internet sites like the Better Business Bureaus Wise Giving Alliance, www.bbb.org/us/charity, or the American Institute
of Philanthropys www.charityguide.org and
That information helps identify good charities, vs. bad. And the latter do exist. One
Central California man told me he planned to start a mountain camp for city kids. That
sounded wonderful. BUT he intended to hire a fund-raising organization, get donations,
give the camp the legal minimum (25%), and keep the other 75% for himself. He said openly
that the 75% was his whole motivation.
What practical guidelines should a "help" ministry follow?
No single set of procedures works best everywhere, in all
circumstances. But two experienced "love your neighbors" leaders shared their
advice for this books readers. Carol Ray is Gateways director/CEO. Rev. John
Ratcliff, pastor of New Life Ministries in Rock Springs, Wyoming, has actively helped meet
peoples food, clothing, financial, and household needs for over 20 years. Together
they recommended these principles:
1. Workers must have the same vision.
2. There can be only one vision - one leader or general overseer.
3. Leadership must be united. Always show a united front even if there
are disagreements or discussions behind the scenes.
4. Have a council for advice and as a sounding board (not for control).
5. If you do have to have a board, be careful whos on it. Be sure
to have people with the same vision.
6. View it as a ministry, not just a job.
7. Take time to rest and for family relations.
8. Not everyone in the Body will feel this calling, although they
should see the Biblical mandate to help in some way.
9. Dont bite off more than you can chew, especially in financial
10. Realize you cant help everybody. Thats why we have a
big body with lots of members.
11. Dont hesitate to refer certain needs to other agencies.
12. Have guidelines to qualify for types of help (financial, food,
clothing, furniture, etc.). Follow them. Otherwise, some people who are "black
holes" will suck you dry if you let them.
13. Do not give cash to anyone. Pay utilities, rents, medical bills,
etc., directly. Buy groceries.
14. Be very careful about receiving help from agencies with strings
15. Establish and follow health and sanitary guidelines.
16. Have guidelines in place to handle dangerous situations. Dont
allow anyone, especially women, to work by themselves.
17. Provide on-going training and mentoring of volunteers.
18. Keep information about clients confidential as you provide service.
These, and other, principles are explored in depth in Beth Lindsday
Templetons book "Loving our Neighbor; a thoughtful approach to helping
people in poverty; seasoned guidance on how to practice wise compassion." (New
York, iUniverse, Inc., c2008.)
Mark Labberton of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Ca, explores
how we can see others through Jesus eyes in "The Dangerous Act of Loving
your Neighbor." (Downers Grove, IL, IVP Books, c2010).
And "Compassion," by Maureen H. OConnell
(Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Press, c2010), explores how we can "love our neighbors in an
age of globalizarion."
These books approach loving our neighbors in unique ways. But, in
contributing their own viewpoints, each is worth reading.
What practical steps can individuals take to "love and help their neighbors?"
All right. Weve learned how important "loving and
helping our neighbors " is. We know that its as important as it would be to
help Jesus himself if we were to meet him and he was in need. Weve found that our
neighbors include our families; the poor; immigrants; orphans; widows; government workers
and officials; Christians from other churches; the sick; handicapped; elderly; prisoners;
and even our enemies. Weve seen the Bible teaches that our neighbors have needs such
as justice, food, clothing, housing, jobs, and income. Weve seen that all us
individuals, families, single churches, groups of churches, non-profit organzations, and
various levels of government all need to play a part in "loving and helping our
neighbors" if were to do it well enough to please God.
But how do we do it? What steps should we take?
Some answers are very simple.
Be alert for neighbors who are sick, out of work, or need food.
Help the homebound with shopping, meals, or laundry.
Volunteer time or money to a good local program.
Earmark a third of your own giving to "help" programs. But
make sure how its used. (One church simply left all of our donations sitting
untouched in the bank.)
If you know of unmet needs in your community, approach your church or a
service club about adopting them. Or organize fundraisers for people with severe financial
needs, as Anything for a Friend does for cancer patients.
Get ideas from the Internet. Visit sites like these:
American Red Cross: www.redcross.org
Anything for a Friend: www.anythingforafriend.com
Beautiful Feet Global Outreach: www.beautifulfeetgo.org
Bread for the World: www.bread.org
Catholic Charities: www.catholiccharitiesusa.org
Feeding America: www.feedingamerica.org
Habitat for Humanity: www.habitat.org
Love Others: www.loveothers.com
Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger: www.mazon.org
Operation Blessing: www.operationblessing.org
Salvation Army: www.salvationarmy.org
Samaritans Purse: www.samaritanspurse.org
United Way: www.liveunited.org
World Vision: www.worldvision.org
What can individual churches do?
Talk with people.
Become aware of local needs.
Gear your efforts to real people, real problems, real
If necessary, begin small. Expand by realistic steps. But ask
"what would we do if we were helping Jesus?"
If your church is new, include the Biblical third of the tithe
in your budget from the start. Itll be easier that way. And itll help
"sell" your church to the community.
Watch for effective but economical ways to help. Youll find good,
practical examples in "Servolution" by Dino Rizzo (below).
Use a weekly or monthly "loose change" offering.
Consider "faith pledges" like those used for missions.
Learn what services are already available in your area. Use
them. Meet the people who run them.
Help single mothers, the sick, elderly, and unemployed.
Dont assume that a community "safety net" covers
everyone. Its usually a group of small "nets" with limited goals. Many
families slip through the gaps between them.
And avoid stereotypes. One church we attended "helped" the
needy by buying them cleaning supplies (but not food or clothes). That came straight from
their stereotypes. In six years of homelessness, we never met a family for whom
cleaning supplies were a more of a problem than food, work, rent, clothing, medical care,
or car repairs.
The Healing Place Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, began by serving its
neighbors. It continues to grow the same way. Its pastor, Dino Rizzo, says "Even if
you dont have enough money to accomplish all that needs to be done, you can still
start with what God has given you." Every caring Christian should read his book
"Servolution; starting a church revolution through serving"
(Zondervan, 2009). Visit the churchs web site at www.healingplacechurch.org., write to 19202 Highland Road, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, or phone
225-753-2273 (fax 753-7175).
Christs Church in Federal Way, Washington, has a
"sister" relationship with several small churches in western Montana. Each
summer Christs Church sends work teams to help the disabled, elderly, single parents
and others who cant help themselves. They install new roofs, paint houses, and chop
Should we work with other churches?
J. Michael Feazell says "A good way [to "love our
neighbors"] is to commit to partnership with a Christian organization of a different
tradition ... To work across denominational lines as Christian brothers and sisters does
not mean we have to hold identical beliefs ... it does mean that we have taken seriously
Jesus command ... that we love one another." (The Liberation of the
worldwide church of God, Zondervan, c2001, p. 166).
Dino Rizzo at Baton Rouges Healing Place Church says "The
more we partner, the more impact we can have." His book Servolution movingly
describes how that church joined with many others to minister after 9/11 and Hurricane
There is strength in numbers.
"Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one ... One
standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer;
three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken" (Eccl. 4:9;
Two excellent examples of multi-church organizations exist on opposite
sides of the US.
In Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida, churches of many
denominations support Gateway Community Outreach. Gateway operates an emergency homeless
prevention, food and support program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals and
families. It provides groceries, clothing, rent and mortgage assistance, education
(literacy, GED, adult basic education), family mentoring, legal, medical/dental
assistance, employment, personal encouragement, spiritual support, and counseling. It
works with local agencies and both Christian and Jewish centers to match clients with
Contact Gateway at 291 SE 1st Terrace, Deerfield Beach, FL
33441, (954) 725-8434 or 8435 (fax, 8436), e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or see the
Internet at www.gatecommoutreach.com.
In the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, the Grace Resource Center
was begun by the Antelope Valley Ministerial Association and is a joint effort of about 40
Graces stated purpose is "to eliminate hunger in the
Antelope Valley, and to share the love of Christ in a tangible way by the giving of
services." It feeds 8,000 people monthly, works with other local agencies, operates a
"Thrift Super Center," and offers computer classes and POWER courses (Personal
growth, Order, Wisdom, Ethics and Relationships).
See Graces Internet site at www.graceresources.org, or contact them
at 45134 N. Sierra Highway, Lancaster, CA 93534, (661) 940-5272 (fax, 940-5274).
If you plan to minister cooperatively with other churches, you may want
to create a non-profit corporation. Youll need to select a board; draft a
constitution, by-laws, and statement of purpose; and choose an attorney.
Follow your states incorporation laws. Some nonprofits will
generously share copies of their paperwork (Gateway did so with us). But dont just
copy that paperwork, because both your goals and your state laws may vary. Excellent
state-by-state aids are available, such as the California Nonprofit Corporation
Handbook by Anthony Mancuso (Berkeley, Nolo Press). Or check Joy Skjegstad s Starting
a Nonprofit at your Church, Alban Institute, 2002.
Learn what information youll need for reports, tax forms, and
audits. Keep accurate, detailed records that will support them.
Consider your lawyer carefully. The expense of a hiring specialist in
nonprofit corporations may be worth it. That helps assure that incorporation will go
smoothly, without costly errors or omissions. And some specialists will "walk"
your application for tax-exempt status through the IRS as part of their price. Gateway
used the Bird Law Firm of Atlanta, Georgia, which does that. You can find many others on
Gateway has helped churches in Maryland, Oklahoma, Virginia, and
northern Florida set up similar organizations, and continues to pray about forming a
nationwide association. That would let you simply become a chapter. It would save start-up
time and money, and let you get advice from experienced people.
Whatever organization you create, be sure it fits your goals.
What if people dont want to accept help?
When Paul collected funds for the Jerusalem church, he asked the church
in Rome to "pray also that the Christians there will be willing to accept the
money I am bringing them" (Rom. 15:31).
Pride makes many people refuse help. Sometimes we must just respect
that. But there are ways to make help easier to accept. Early in my first marriage, while
we struggled on a very limited budget, a neighbor offered us a washing machine. We needed
one, but it seemed too much to take. So Don wisely told us, "pay me back by doing the
same thing for someone else a few years from now."
Some pastors offer work at the church, like painting or cutting grass.
Homebound may "repay" the churchs help by joining its
Try the "Christian handshake" containing folded $5, $10, or
When we were coping with one long sickness, an anonymous friend mailed
us a $100 grocery gift card. We never learned who sent it, but surely appreciated it.
Remind people that were helping Jesus by helping them (Matthew
A friend who stopped to aid a stranded driver told me he gave the man
his business card. He asked him to repay the favor by helping another motorist, adding his
own name to the card, and passing it on.
Several months later Daves own car stalled, and a driver stopped
to help. Afterwards, the man reached into his wallet, extracted a dog-eared card, wrote
his name on the back, and gave it to Dave.
Dave looked at the card. It was his own! He turned it over. The back
was covered with the names of motorists whod been helped and had, in turn, helped
another. The chain Dave had started had come back to him.
We know churches that have ministered in these ways:
Maintained food pantries, donation boxes, and "clothes
Made every third mens meeting a workday to repair, paint, and do
odd jobs at homes of the elderly, widows, and sick.
Arranged for youth to work in homeless shelters and day care agencies;
making lunches for the homeless, or cleaning yards for the elderly.
Posted job openings on a church bulletin board.
Contributed to interchurch "help" programs.
Operated a soup kitchen with other churches.
Took food to shut-ins. (First learn what meal-delivery services
are available now, and whos eligible.)
Built and operated low-cost senior citizens housing.
Got bicycles from the police department, renovated them, and gave them
to needy kids. Or gave bicycles to the Fire Department to fix and give away.
Changed oil for low-income individuals.
Signed up church women, a month each, to prepare meals for the
Offered a hot meal at the church at Thanksgiving.
Helped a family rebuild after a fire.
Renovated trailer homes for low-income people.
Gave coffee and drinks to crowds at sports events.
Participated in Travelers Assistance programs.
How can we learn what works? Talk with those whove tried. Every
program, public or private, has successes and failures. Correct flaws. Improve service.
Try new ideas.
But dont quit! When one of my college roommates first made gravy,
he followed the recipe carefully. But his first try was less than successful. He took the
gravy outside, nailed it to a tree, and shot at it with his .22! But AJ didnt quit.
By the time we roomed together, he cooked well.
King Solomons words in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 and 3:7-8 sum up
"There is a right time for everything:
"A time to plant;
"A time to harvest;
"A time to heal;
"A time to rebuild;
"A time to repair;
"A time for loving."
Today is "a time for loving." For loving God with all
our heart, soul, mind, and strength. For loving our neighbors as much as we love
ourselves, and as much as Jesus loves us. For showing our love by how we give and serve!
Today is a day for Christians to remember that how we treat all
our "neighbors" is the way we treat Jesus. Then, as in Matt. 25:34, he
will say "come, blessed of my Father, into the kingdom prepared for you."
"Never doubt that a small
group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, its the only
thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead