Street Smarts for Pastors

July 31st, 2013

When folks come by the church office requesting assistance, how do we know if they are truly needy or simply trying to pull a scam? There are a few simple rules to help you help others who truly need it.

1. Ask as many questions as possible. What happened that brought you here? Where is your sick mother? What is her name? What is the name of the hospital she is in? Would you mind if I called the hospital and prayed with your mother over the phone? Where are you staying at night? Are you willing to do some work around the church in exchange for a bus ticket? When did you have your work tools stolen? Would you be willing to let me talk with your boss? etc. Spend some time checking out the story.

2. Maintain dignity and respect for the person requesting assistance throughout the conversation.

3. Invite them to attend worship. The invitation should look like “We want to be in relationship with you. We would like for you to be a part of this local church community. I would love to see you in worship. Come to worship, check in with me afterwards and we can talk about next steps of assistance after that.”

4. Never go with the stranger’s specific plan for assistance at face value. Work with them and make a plan together. Make sure there is mutual accountability in place. A little of their plan and a little of yours. Something like “We can’t help you be on the bus by 3:00 this afternoon, but we can make a plan together for you to get to your destination by the end of this week.”

5. Remind them that scam artists exist with something like this…. “We don’t do money. We do food, some utility assistance, even clothing, but not money. You would not believe this but 90% (this is true) of the folks who call here or come here for assistance are working a scam. I know you are not, I believe you, but people who have come before you have made it bad for everyone. Hang in with me because if you want a community that loves and cares about you then you have come to the right place.”

6. Always have some small jobs around the church that unskilled laborers can do. Make sure that the one asking for assistance has some skin in the game. The legit folks will work for assistance, and even if they are not legit, there still is a fair exchange of labor for assistance so we don’t look too much like easy marks. There are some that will claim physical disabilities won’t allow them to do janitorial or landscaping work. For those folks there is phone coverage, or folding bulletins. I even had one who was a computer whiz and helped with the church web site.

7. Put this work-for-assistance plan in your budget for the coming year. For now, it can come through the pastor’s discretionary fund but next year it can be a line item in the budget.

8. Nominate a compassionate but street-smart person to your board of trustees to supervise the church work-for-assistance program. Find out who is called by God to be a hands on leader in ministry with the poor and marginalized and turn them loose.

If the church had more street smarts we would not be afraid of street people and we would be in a better position to build a church of socio-economic diversity.

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