When "Helping Doesn't Help"

COVID-19 refreshed my memories of lessons learned years ago as a pastor in rural areas. I participated with other leaders to lead two different communities to address the spread of the flu. One of the main things we learned was that there are a lot of people who have great intentions, who love people, and who put that love into real actions. The other thing is that good intentions can cause us to put others at risk, even of their lives. We value our personal ministry but fail to realize that we can do more harm than good.

That lesson applies to more than viruses. It can apply to how we help to hurting people. If we come charging in to "rescue" them, we often teach them they can depend on us. It sends them the message that they are not capable of caring for themselves and that they need us. That should tell us that our actions are more about us than they are about them.

I need to be very, very clear. If it were not for Christians organizing, donating, and volunteering, low-income families and individuals would struggle to survive. As a Mental Health Skillbuilder, I could not have taken care of my clients without the food pantries, clothing closets, utility and rent assistance, and many other services provided by Christian organizations. I admire those who "step up" to provide what the government does not. The immediate services and support they provide are unparalleled.

However, I have noticed some things over the years that show the limited impact. One, there is almost no relationship building. To meet the needs of many, it is a quick process. It may be done out of love and in faith in Jesus, but the recipient is only there for a few minutes. Second, the lack of relationships means the recipient is not getting the message. I have had clients insult, laugh at, and even brag about cheating various programs and people, sometimes even while in the parking lot! The third is "learned helplessness". It means someone is "helpless" because they have "learned" that they cannot succeed. It means they focus on accepting support. They don't try because they don't think they can succeed.

New LifeScape Ministry knows that many people are stuck where they are because they don't think they can change anything. For most, they cannot without others to help them. The solution is to help them in ways that build supportive relationships to help them move forward and through those relationships earn community respect as they see Jesus through the lives of His Believers. This cannot be done "wholesale" in large groups but by finding individuals that actually want to change their lives and helping them over time. We need both outlets in order to be truly effective in our communities for Christ!

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