In my ministry I receive regular—though I wouldn’t say frequent—requests for money from needy non-Christians. The few times I have given out money I have tended to regret it, largely because it made the recipient feel awkward in the future, like he or she owed me something. I prefer to help in other ways. But occasionally I’m asked by someone who clearly isn’t trying to buy drugs, who has dependents, who has come regularly to our outreach ministry, who quite obviously isn’t lying about his or her need for shelter—there’s some complex of factors that make me decide to give actual cash.
Blessedly, I am a man under authority, and I don’t have to sort out these issues on my own. One of my pastors—I got his permission to post this—offered the following wisdom. It’s not his full-orbed philosophy; it’s wisdom for just one particular situation we faced last year with a man who met all the stipulations I listed in the previous paragraph. But it might be helpful to you:
I don’t think we should help him from church funds immediately or completely. If you would be okay with approaching the workers in your particular ministry via e-mail with the need and seeing if workers were willing to contribute together toward the need (whatever indefinite amount) – I’ll contribute $XX – then we can see where the needs stands in comparison to what has come in, and we could consider then whether to add in any from the church.
A couple thoughts are influencing my thinking about this method . . . .
- I think it would be good for it to be evident to him that help comes from people, not an “institution.”
- I think it would be helpful to convey to him that his needs potentially impact many, not just himself and his own family.
- I think it is likely that there will be other needs, and I want to set a constructive precedent in his mind that needs that that take time to develop do not necessarily disappear easily and quickly.