Many people in need have been in their situation just a short time or may be temporarily in their current state.
Don't call them "needy" or "poor," and don't think of them as being in a permanent state of neediness. To do that will cause you to lose hope for them and will affect the way you relate to them.
Who knows - you may be needy someday. A disability could strike you, and certainly you're growing older and could hit "elderly" status some day.
Be outgoing - smile a lot!
Your smile is your most powerful tool for good. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you don't know what to do, try smiling. It almost always defuses tension.
Be true - check your motives and prejudices before leaving home.
Don't go to gawk.
If you're new to ministry to the needy, go over this entire list of dos and don'ts. We have found that without adequate training, embarrassing things happen. For example, when African Americans from our church go out with our teams, newcomers sometimes think they're part of the urban neighborhood we're serving. Prejudices can come through easily unless your church provides some sensitivity training.
Be bold - don't hesitate to pray for people.
When should you pray? Before, during, and after an outing!
Pray for the people you're ministering to. Of all the folks in the world, the needy are typically the most responsive to prayer. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor for they know their need" (Matthew 5).
We approach them directly and ask, "Do you have any needs we can pray for? May we pray for you right now?"
Be prudent - don't give money to the needy, at least not your own money.
It's easy for codependency to form when you're ministering to the needy.
Many churches that have ongoing ministries to people with needs set up a committee to review needs and requests for funds. You might consider creating an application for assistance that not only will help you assess your needs, but also will create a database for following up on the person requesting assistance.
Most often, don't give money directly to someone requesting assistance. Instead, pay to the apartment complex, utility company, or car repair shop.
Be careful - don't make promises.
Even subtle promises could be mistaken as written-in-stone commitments by someone in need.
Stay away from statements like, "We'll do this," "We'll be back," or even, "We'll try to ... " Unless you are the decision-maker in charge and you are absolutely sure, it's better to say something like, "I can see you have a need. I'll check into that. I'm not making you a promise! I'll see what comes up." It's kinder to be noncommittal or even to answer with a definite "no" than to imply a promise of future help and not follow through.
Be a team player.
Personally, I (Steve) have never felt a moment's danger while being around homeless people, the poor, and others with needs. But clearly, it's prudent to do any of these ministries to the needy in teams of two or more. We know of ministries where negative incidents have occurred - always where an individual was overly trusting and alone in a ministry situation.
Be smart - don't get involved in an extreme ministry of generosity without a substantial team behind you.
Newcomers to ministry to the needy often go through a honeymoon period of six months to a year. During this time, they sometimes make unreasonable commitments to ministry to the needy. God has given them a clear love for the needy, but they're a little intoxicated with their love and they lack reasonable boundaries. ...
It takes a lot of energy, equipment, and an indomitable spirit to succeed, but amateurs are ill advised to harpoon Moby Dick from a little rowboat. He's bigger than you and he will take you where he wants to go. So it is with beginning a significant new ministry to the needy.
Be creative - try out new ideas.
Dare to brainstorm with others and encourage "out of the box" thinking. The great thing about the needy is that they're resilient and forgiving even if something goes slightly wrong with your approach.
Be hungry - hang around the needy in order to receive the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
We spend time with the needy to get our fuel cells recharged. A special grace seems to rest upon people with ongoing needs. You'll feel an overflow of that grace as you give away ministry to them.
Being around people with needs will also help you put your own problems in perspective. It will allow you avenues to connect with people that were previously closed.
Be aware - of compassion fatigue.
Galatians 6:9 says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for a the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
There is high turnover in ministry to the needy. This is the report we heard from the majority of ministries we talked with in doing research for this book. Burnout happens when people giving in ministry aren't nurtured. ...
Be a volunteer - for good!
Happy, fulfilled volunteers may tend to think wistfully and romantically about "going full time" into ministry to the needy. Urge them to reconsider. ... Believe me, it's not what it's cracked up to be. ...
Bottom line - only go into full-time ministry if it's absolutely the only option for you emotionally and spiritually, and then only after you have thoroughly, deeply prayed and consulted about such a drastic move.
Excerpted by permission from 101 Ways to Help People in Need, copyright 2002 by Steve and Janie Sjogren. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, Co., www.navpress.com. All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 1-800-366-7788.
Steve and Janie Sjogren have been involved in church planting in Oslo, Norway; Baltimore, Maryland; and Cincinnati, Ohio. Steve is the author of many other books. The Sjogrens live in West Chester, Ohio, with their three children.
How are you currently serving others? How is God helping you do so, and what fruit are you seeing from your efforts? What challenges have you faced while serving others? What aspects of your experiences serving others have proven most rewarding to you? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.