The four rules of helping

April 28th, 2021

“I’m tired of giving people $40 toward a shut-off notice, or a plastic grocery bag of Spam and crackers, or a one night’s stay in a hotel as our feeble attempt at outreach here,” Rev. Tina Cross told me, her voice rising with conviction. “I don’t want a vision that says, ‘Everyone will be fed.’ It simply doesn’t address the core issues here.”

The core issue at the church Tina and her husband served was that the people who came for help weren’t really being helped. Sure, the money and the food assisted them temporarily, but their baseline situation never changed appreciably. She knew that if she wanted the church’s efforts to make a difference, they would have to do something different. These are essential awarenesses to know about when it comes to helping as a church leader.

Do you find yourself in a situation like that?

The origin of the rules

I first learned these rules when I was in early recovery. Now that I was getting better, I wanted to help everybody else. My sponsor gave me a discernment tool that I have never forgotten. “Before you go out and save the world,” she said, “better run your ideas through these four rules.” I share them with you, fellow church leaders, because they apply to “do-gooders” everywhere.

The four rules of helping

Here are four rules for helping as a church leader:

1. The person has to need help. This first rule is crucial to keep in mind. There are all kinds of people you might like to change, fix, or re-direct. But if they don’t need help, keep your hands off. Your efforts will be wasted. Bottom line, each person has free will. Even if you don’t like or approve of their lives, if free will is good enough for God, it has to be good enough for you. Move on to be of service to others who need help.

2. The person has to want help. So let’s say your person needs help. Good. You and they are on the right track. The next question is, do they want help? Truth be told, some folks are in desperate need of help. But unless they want help, your efforts won’t make a bit of difference. Again, remember the reality of free will. Move on.

3. The person has to want my help. If your person needs help and wants help, consider the third rule: they have to want your help. This is where you have to be honest. Are you a fit? Does your congregation connect with the kind of person you want to help? Is it a good match? Because if it’s not, no amount of intention will make the match. You can either partner with the kind of group that appeals to the folks you want to help or move on. If you are a fit, don’t leap into helping without checking out the final rule. It’s the most important one of all.

4. I can only help them to help themselves. If your person needs help, wants help, and they are okay with your help, then you’ve got a green light to offer a particular kind of help. This help isn’t about fixing them, changing them, or saving them from themselves. Instead, you can do something even more valuable: help them to help themselves. This form of help is called empowerment. The definition of empowerment says it all: The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights. God gives us agency. Your empowering help will reconnect them with that agency.

Let’s get back to Rev. Tina Cross, the example that kicked off this entire idea of getting better at helping as a church leader. When she and her congregation moved away from quick fixes, they landed upon the kind of vision that met all the Four Rules of Helping criteria. Their vision became, “Equipping people to thrive.”

I love this vision because it’s easy to remember, applies to congregation and community, is biblical, and offers so much more than a quick fix. She wanted people to see themselves in a new light: as new creations in Christ, as capable, confident, able, worthy human beings. People who had what it takes to rise to new heights.

Offering a quick fix can feel good in the moment. But it’s heartbreaking when you realize that it didn’t really make a real difference in someone else’s life.

So, how do you stop helping and start empowering others? One way to do that is to learn the best practices of creating a culture of renewal in your setting. Join us for a free seminar where we teach you how to do this!

Join me on my free online seminar, “How to Create a Culture of Renewal” it’ll teach you how to show up as a better, more equipped leader to serve your congregation.

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