Thursday, April 26, 2007

Homelessness, Begging, and the Church

Michael Spencer has a long, thoughtful post about how Christians should respond to panhandlers, including a list of Biblical passages addressing the subject. He also notes this about church Good Samaritan Funds:

Dave Ramsey tells the story of working with his church’s benevolence ministry. They put three guidelines into place for all people asking for financial or food assistance. 1) Work an hour or two at the church. 2) Meet with a member of the church to make out a budget. 3) Attend one church service. Ramsey says that over 95% of persons asking for financial help did not return when these guidelines were given to them. This is a good indicator of the actual makeup of most benevolence requests.

It's not a bad idea, but most of the people that I've worked with who knock on the church door asking for money are generally on the last day that they can pay a bill before being evicted, or losing their car, etc.

Still, every church needs to think through what its ministry toward such encounters should be. What does your church do?


truevyne said...

I was once on the church benevolence committee, and I remember quitting because the language about "those people" irked me to no end. The hoops and jumps were endless.
Here's how we handled it at my house when we lived in the inner city and people would stop by- we were known to be a family who gave in need. I fed every child who asked, occasionally more than once a day. For adults, we kept a pantry and let people have what they needed. I bought diapers, formula, canned goods, bottled water. We asked folks to come before 9 pm and told them we'd call the police if it was after (which we had to do a few times for junkies unaware of the late hour).
Since we've moved to a new town and live far from the road and civilization, noone comes and our family pantry is out of business.
Sometimes in winter, my children make bags to keep in the van containing pop top food, plastic silverware, drink, phone numbers of shelters, and 50 cents for a phone call which we hand out to people with signs.

Bluebird said...

Here we have a ministerial alliance that does the helping. There's only one hurdle - you can't ask for help too often (can't remember the exact rules). Other than that, no hurdles, which is the way it should be.

Personally, I've never asked for help unless I'm desperate. Which means I need the help now. "Guidelines" like these would be like offering no help at all. On top of which, it's a slap in the face to someone who's already humbled and shamed. What's Christlike about that?

Tim Sisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Sisk said...

I got called a prick by another United Methodist minister on Andy Bryan's blog when Andy discussed this subject, so I'll probably stay out of this discussion here. Not telling what could have on a libertarian's blog.

Tim Sisk

John said...

I had missed that, Tim, but I dug through Andy's archives and yeah, you're right. That shouldn't have happened.

Tim Sisk said...

My last sentence should have said, "No telling what could happen on a libertarian blog.."

Oy. Need to proof read.

Tim Sisk

Andy B. said...

Once I had to stop at a church to ask for gas money. I was on a long distance trip, had no cash on me, no ATM card, no cell phone. The only person at the church was a custodian. I am so grateful that she did not make me sit down and make up a budget. The next time I was through that town, I stopped again at the church and paid her back.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)

The Bass Player's Wife said...

Our home church took the attitude that they would rather be "taken in" by someone than deny assistance to a person in need.
Now personally, my husband and I have a no cash policy. We always have water in the car (desert dwellers, you see) and usually food. If no food, then we will offer to share a meal. Remarkably, we get a lot of takers on that and have met some pretty cool people that way.

John said...

I know one pastor whose policy is that benevolence funds should only be given to members of the church in good standing, which strikes me as abhhorent.

Ultimately, we might get taken in. But that is obedience to Christ.

Larry B said...

One thing one of the churches I attended did to try and provide help without being taken advantage of was to keep a stock of vouchers for various local restaurants and for persons needing a place to stay, they had an agreement with one of the local motels where they would call and authorize a room for someone who needed it and the motel would bill the church. Food vouchers and hotel stays required a signature in a ledger at the church. There was no official policy on how many times people could request food or lodging, but the signature ledger seemed to keep people from coming back too often. Stays in the motel longer than 3 days required that they come back to the church and the Pastor would take them to the city social services divisions to have them entered into the system for public assisstance through the city. Only 1 person ever stayed the 3 days and came back to be taken to the city services.