Three Tips for the Community Resource Card
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Paul writes these words as part of a summary of the commonalities that unite all Christians. Today, these words remind us that one of the evidences of a life changed by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is in the way a person treats the poor. Christians are called to live like Jesus who particularly loved the poor and marginalized.
As a downtown church, we are well-suited to live out this aspect of the gospel. Indeed, over the last few months, our church parking lot has undergone a transformation as our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness have come to First Presbyterian for the overflow shelter season. I would imagine many of you have encountered a shelter guest on at least one occasion over the last few weeks. In those moments, it’s often hard to know exactly what to say or do. We know we’re supposed to give a glimpse of Jesus. But, how in the world are we supposed to do that?
We’ve created a new resource card that can help. You can find them printed at the welcome areas on Sunday mornings or click the button below to download a digital copy. I encourage you to keep a few with you whenever you’re downtown!
1) Focus on relational interaction (not transaction)
People experiencing homelessness and poverty are first and foremost people. Many have jobs, some have family, all have unique perspectives and personalities. It’s OK to ask the same kind of questions you would ask a new person at church: ‘How is your day going so far?’ ‘How long have you lived in Winston-Salem?’ etc.
Poverty is rooted in broken relationships. How we interact with the poor will either reinforce or resist those broken relationships. If as Christians we regularly remember that we also are broken and in need of outside intervention from Christ, then we can avoid treating low-income people as problems to solve rather than people to engage.
2) Please don’t give money on behalf of the church or at the church.
All of our shelter guests are experiencing poverty for reasons far beyond a simple lack of resources. Our church is part of a community-wide partnership with City with Dwellings in order to address the root causes of poverty (broken relationships, mental health, systemic issues, etc.) rather than just the symptoms of poverty (lack of resources). When these deeper dynamics are in play, giving out cash can actually be more harmful than helpful to our shelter guests.
As we partner with City with Dwellings, we have been encouraged to avoid giving out cash and instead point people in the direction of any number of community resources. The resource card will help us do that and also give us the ability to focus more on the relational dynamics — which is where we are uniquely well-suited as Christians to engage.
Giving money on behalf of the church may at first seem like a way to stay humble and keep the attention off of you. This is an admirable motive with the unfortunate side effect of speaking in opposition to the way we’re participating in our community partnership.
Instead of giving money, ask a few questions to discover the need. Then, grab a resource card and point out the solution to their need. If there isn’t one on the card, encourage them to visit City with Dwellings. They will provide a case-worker who will provide the consistent care, connection, and follow-up needed.
Note: This is not a call to end financial generosity within Christian relationships. The church maintains and uses a benevolence fund for emergency relief situations. Consistent poverty, however, is not a matter of simple relief and thus requires a more holistic approach with partners like City with Dwellings.
3) Pray for wisdom.
Scripture does contain ethical rules, i.e. black and white boundaries. However, the Bible also repeatedly calls for believers to pursue and grow in wisdom. It’s not always clear whether or not to give the person on 5th street $2 for a bus pass. It’s not always clear what to say when hearing about some of the traumas that one of our shelter guests has endured. It’s hard to know how to balance safety practices with relational practices. Pray for wisdom. Pray for it again. Keep praying for it the whole time you are interacting with our guests. You will make mistakes — grace abounds. The point is to trust that God is at work and that he uses ordinary people like us to do his extraordinary work in others.
If you have any questions about how to use the resource card, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Thank you for your partnership in the gospel. I look forward to hearing more stories of God’s work in and through our church.