*WARNING – This post contains offensive language.
A few weeks ago I was heading down to Bartow, Florida to pick up one of our regular church attenders that was being released from jail (yeah…that’s how we roll at Impact! Church). With me was Mark Lewis, a black man, dear friend and a volunteer leader at our church. We were early and decided to stop in for a quick breakfast at McDonalds. As we sat to enjoy our Egg McMuffins I noticed two elderly white men staring at me. I went back to eating and talking to Mark. Every time I looked up they were always staring at me. After a few minutes I had to get up to go refill my drink at which point I passed near their table. As I went by them I heard one say in a low tone, “Damn nigger lover!” I don’t know if he meant for me to hear it or not – but I did. I was stunned and immediately went back to the table. I told Mark what had just happened. That is when he had me look around the restaurant…Mark was the only black person in the building – including staff. I was furious!!! I was ready to set aside my “pastor” hat and go pummel an elderly man! I was ready to start throwing chairs through windows and destroying countertops. That’s when Mark told me to calm down and get my temper under control. I asked Mark why he wasn’t angry and he replied, “Because this is the way it is – people are offended that a black man and white man are friends having breakfast.” I wanted to do something – start a protest, create a campaign, go on social media rants, confront folks in the building, incite a riot…anything to make a difference in racist beliefs. But it was Mark that came up with the best solution. He said, “If you really want to fight racism keep having meals with me. Others will see that and eventually change their way of thinking because in the end…love wins!”
The constant struggle we have at Impact! Church is whether we are giving homeless folks a hand up or a hand out. One helps a person temporarily ease their struggle along their journey to self sufficiency and the other just perpetuates selfishness, laziness and in certain cases furthers addiction. It is a tough call that – I will admit – we have not mastered yet. It involves of process of establishing a relationship with a person needing assistance, assessing if they are truly trying to better themselves and discerning if they are just “playing us” to get a “free ride”. The last thing we want to do is provide life services to someone to enable their addiction. The other thing we want to avoid is to reinforce the “hand out” lifestyle – a life where all they know how to do is ask people for things instead of work for them. Constantly allowing people to avoid self-sufficiency not only contradicts sound Biblical doctrine, but also prolongs the person’s continued homelessness.
Those that give have to set limits because those that take will not.
One of the hardest aspects of helping folks in need is limiting generosity. Over the past year and a half we have learned – the hard way – that those that give have to set limits because those that take will not. We will never let a person in need starve to death or freeze to death, but that does not mean we have to respond every time they ask for something. Constantly “handing out” eventually leads to the person in need constantly coming back playing on emotions, using manipulation tactics or sometimes outright temper tantrums to gain what they are unwilling to earn. Constant hand outs only help to promote this infant-like behavior and does nothing to encourage the person to work toward self-sufficiency. That is not to say we do not help people those that only want a hand out instead of a hand up – but it is limited and under certain conditions. Generosity is good a thing, but so is limits if you really truly want to hep people.
Over the past year we have worked to create document that defines our purpose and policy for helping those in need. It is called our Homeless Assistance Policy and you can download it for free at our sister site HomelessChurch.tv by clicking the link below. If you have any questions about our policies or procedures in helping those in need, please feel free to email me at email@example.com .
Homeless Assistance Policy
This is Dutch – the homeless man that sits at the door of Impact! Church. Dutch is mentally challenged. Some think he has borderline personality disorder and others just think he is “off”. Dutch has no home and no money. He has no police record, no family and no way to find out about his life. He claims the “feds are after him” and will not give a legitimate Social Security number so we can find out who he really is. He is simply known as Dutch and has been living on the streets of our neighborhood for over 15 years.
He showed up at Impact! Church soon after we moved into the Parker Street community and has never left. He refuses to go to an assisted living facility and has never done anything violent to warrant the authorities assigning him to one. He claims that he is our security detail and spends every day “guarding” the front doors of Impact! Church. Sometimes he sits outside the door, but when it gets especially hot he sits right inside the door. He welcomes folks to Impact!, talks to them about God and invites them to church. Every Monday morning I meet with him so he can critique the worship service and sermon from the previous day. His best friend is a 7-year-old girl named Lauren – the child of an Impact! leader. Lauren and Dutch love to watch Disney movies on her iPad. The technology amazes Dutch. At night he arranges a few cushioned chairs together in our sanctuary to form a bed. We always make sure that Dutch has plenty of clothes, food, medicine and hygiene products. Dutch basically lives at Impact! Church 24/7/365 because he has no where else to go.
At Impact ! Church Dutch is not considered “charity case”, but a true friend and brother. We didn’t choose Dutch, Dutch chose us – which is quite an honor! He has been to my house for showers, sits in on leadership meetings, enjoyed holidays at one of our homes, challenges us to regular corn hole games and actively helps us lead people to Jesus Christ. He is the exact reason God called Impact! Church to this community. In essence Dutch is Impact! Church…and we love that!