When Helping Hurts

Hurricane Dorian has devastated the Bahamas.  As a Floridian, the last time I saw anything like this it was when Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead.  For those of us who remember Andrew, remember Homestead, we have a deep appreciate for what the people of the Bahamas are currently going through.  Loved ones are displaced.  Homes destroyed.  People are missing.  The storm has taken lives.  In our hearts we feel a deep need to do something to help.

helpinghurtsYears ago, I had an opportunity to talk about missions with some very long term missionaries.  I was surprised to hear about all of the things that we send overseas or things we do when we volunteer there… that are not only unhelpful, but actually counter productive.  At some point, missions became more about US than others.  It was a way to appease that part of us that wants to make a difference in the world.  It became a method or tool that we as parents use to send our children off to some other place where they will be suddenly humbled in to appreciation for the life they have.  This was also when I was introduced to the book When Helping Hurts.  I highly recommend it for all church leaders to read before you begin missions (local and global) in your church.  It will open your eyes to how we can better serve those who are in need.

Last year, a friend of mine showed me a series of pictures.  It was a missions supported school in another country.  In each picture you would see the same kids, in the same clothing, seated in the exact same position.  However, from photo to photo the banner with the school’s name changed.  Each banner reflected the name of the church or missions program that supported the school.  Why?  Because, it made the donors feel better to see their name on the school.  This wasn’t a scam, but a way to appease the donors so that the funds kept coming to support the school & keep it running.

A few months ago, a missionary friend shared with me how church missions groups come and go to their location.  She said, “This room has been painted ten times this year.”  I don’t know about you, but I don’t even paint the inside of my home once per year.  When I asked her why, she explained that they needed something for the visiting missions trips to do and painting was an easy project.  She went on to explain that they had tried construction projects in the past, but due to the lack of experience of the people on the trip, they often had to go back and redo all the work.

I went on a missions trip several years ago.  It cost me just over $1000 total.  Ever since I’ve wondered how much further my money would have gone, how much more good it would have done, had I just sent $1000 to the organization that received us.  That feeling has only been reinforced as I learn more and more about the other side of missions trips.  As I connect with more long term missionaries who open my eyes to what is really needed and how much of what is done is a waste to simply make us feel good.

That brings me to Hurricane Dorian.  The outpour of good hearted people who have a strong desire to help is heartwarming.  The Bahamian Government has provided a list of it’s immediate needs (and what it doesn’t need).  Locals are looking for donation drop off locations.  There are quite a few Facebook groups used to keep in touch about the Hurricane & now the talk has turned to Bahamas Relief.  Praise God for the generosity of humans when crisis comes!   Based on my observations, here are some questions I have compiled when you consider donating goods to relief.

  1.  Is it better to donate your stuff or your time?   We all have stuff to spare, but our stuff may not be what is most needed.  If you have the time to volunteer with the relief that may do more good than sending over piles of things you do not need anymore.  You don’t even need to leave your home town, volunteer to work at any of the collection centers.
  2.  Do they need your stuff or your money?   There are immediate needs for search and rescue, medical care, and clean up that take precedent over comfort items.  Money doesn’t cost anything to be transported to the location, it can often buy more when used by relief organizations, and they know best how to spend it.  For example, getting portable water filtration systems will product the same amount of water but for less cost.  It’s a long term solution that also doesn’t create the waste of bottled water.  Please Read:  After A Disaster Don’t Send Toys or Clothing, Send Money. Here’s Why.
  3.  Is sending these items going to help or hurt?   Certain items, like used clothing, are a logistical nightmare. Once received they must be cleaned, sorted, and stored.  In the case of the Bahamas, there is currently no where available to store clothing, nor do they have the manpower to sort it.  It could also take up valuable space for more needed supplies, or even get in the way of the relief efforts.  Not tomention where does one store the loads of clothes they have been given when they lack a home to keep them in?   Please Read:  Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But Relief
  4.  Am I donating what THEY need or what I THINK they need?  When someone has lost everything, you may think the recipients will be grateful for anything you send.  You may think you know what they need, but do you really?   I have a garage full of items I have been gathering up for a yard sale.  All things that could help a person who lost everything get re-established.  The question I need to ask before dropping off donations is whether or not that will do good TODAY.  If not, then I can either hold on to the items until they do ask for those types of goods or have that garage sale but give all the money to a relief organization.

What can you do to help the Bahamas?

Pray.  People are still searching for family members, mourning those who have been lost, and coming to terms with the destruction.

Give.  There are great organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, The Red Cross, Convoy of Hope, etc. that are well known and established organizations.  Give financially and let their expertise funnel the money where it will do the most good.

Donate.  Listen to the reports on what the Bahamian Government needs and donate those items if you have them, or donate funds to purchase those items as needed.  Recovery is going to take a very long time.

Volunteer.  If you have expertise (recovery, building, medical, etc.) and can take some time off to volunteer… GO!  Use that expertise.  If not, look at how you can help locally by volunteering at local donation collection centers.

He Knows The Storms Are Coming

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Yesterday, was August 31st.   It was the very day that the WMC had planned to host our second LeadHer Conference.   At the time we scheduled it, it had escaped my mind that this was right before the Labor Day holiday.  After checking with our speakers, we all agreed it would probably best to reschedule.  The event was cancelled, and we began looking for an alternative date.  The goal was September 7th, thus is it wouldn’t be too late into the fall/holiday season.

Time after time, the doors kept shutting.  There were two of us contacting locations, and it was just unfruitful.  Normally, I would bet getting anxious about this type of thing.  I don’t like to cancel events, and to not even follow up with a new date would over stress me.  Yet, I was at an odd peace about all of it.  I was trusting that when the time was right, the place was right, it would all fall into place.

I was sitting in my living room on Friday, when I realized that this would have been the weekend of LeadHer had it not been cancelled.  I immediately messaged two of the women speaking.

“Wow!!!  See… God knew what he was doing!!!”

“Oh the Sovereignty of our God”!!!

Amen.

As leaders, we do not always know why things happen the way they do.  Events may get cancelled or rescheduled.  Things don’t always go according to our plan.  We will be surprised by the trials and the storms.  But… not God.

He knows the storms by name.

 

Summer Break, Ministry Break

Summer Break Ministry Break

A ministry taking a break or scaling back during the summer is pretty common here.  MOPS groups meeting during the school year, but take the summers off since the kids are home.  Bible Study groups take a break since people are busy traveling.    Women’s Ministries do not plan much for the summer, due to unpredictable attendance.

I’ve watched this happen for over twenty years, various denominations, and assorted cities in which we have lived.  I thought it was a regional thing due to our hot Florida summers, but I’ve learned it is pretty common throughout the country.  How did this happen?

Over the course of twenty years, I’ve noticed something … people’s vacations, life interruptions, and crisis don’t wait for summer.  In fact, if I had to point out what I see as the busiest time of the year, with the most interruptions it would fall one week before Thanksgiving and through the week of New Years.  Why?

Ahead of Thanksgiving you have two things happening, either you are preparing to travel for the holiday or you are preparing to host the holiday.  Then once Thanksgiving has passed, you enter the Christmas season.  Just like Thanksgiving, people are preparing for the holiday travel or to host guests at their home.  However, unlike Thanksgiving, this season is also peppered with holiday parties thrown by friends, family, co-workers, and companies.  Schools will have some sort of winter presentation (band concert, choir performance, etc.) and class parties that require shopping for supplies, dropping them off, or even attending the event with your children.  In your free time, you may find yourself in the mall or local stores shopping til you drop.  Even if you are shopping online, you still need to locate the gifts, receive them, and wrapping won’t elude you (unless you pay for the store to gift wrap for you).  All of these holidays impact the majority of your church members. In the holiday season, we do not see a decrease in church service attendance. 

Because of this, I try to make sure that our ministry events and studies wrap up prior to Thanksgiving week.  Then we will have some sort of a kick off in January that will introduce our next study group topics and calendar for the coming months.

The summer, however, doesn’t have that same rush and chaos as the holiday season does.  We are not feeling as stretched thin, schedule wise.  Not only do we see the ministries take a break or cut back, but even Sunday service attendance decreases.  In some states you might be tempted to blame good weather, especially if you are prone to long cold winters or rain filled falls & springs.   However, in Florida, we almost always have good weather.  In fact, our summer is so hot that many of us will do less just to avoid the heat.  We relish the cooler months when they come.

Unless your kids are in certain travel sports teams, their sports have also taken a break for summer.  Yes, you might have cheer camp, band camp, or a sports camp for a week or two, but typically you have the majority of the summer off.

I wonder if this is the reason we take summers off?  Have we jam packed our mid Aug – May (or early June) with so much stuff that by the time summer comes it serves as a respite.  We are not rushing around doing school tasks/errands and events for our kids?  The concert/performance/team seasons have ended.  Less kids birthday parties fall during the summer.  There are no holiday parties, shy of 4th of July which may be the most low key holiday when it comes to preparation.  Vacations are not accompanying a holiday, so they don’t have as much preparation or pressure.

We are just doing less during the summer, and perhaps that led to us seeing summer break like a sabbath season from the year.  In addition, we are all collectively doing less.  And, we enjoy the break.

The problem with summer breaks from ministry and studies is the result of having to restart the attendance habit each coming fall.  It takes a while to get back into the swing of things, after a two or three months break.  I also believe that as a result of the ministries and studies taking a break, people also break from Sunday services… particularly now that they can watch online from their home.

Yes, it is good for our leaders to get a break and recuperate.  Rest is something that is mentioned quite often in the Bible as a good thing.  It is good for all of us to get a break to stop & be still for a bit.  However, we must be careful that it isn’t too long.  Further, if we are actually scheduling in the breaks throughout the year then a summer break may not be necessary.  For example, instead of teaching a study without a break Aug-May… intentionally scheduling a two week break between study topics/books may be enough to re-energize the leader through the next session.  If you could get a short reprieve periodically throughout the year then teaching through the summer wouldn’t be as daunting.  Plus, your study members would also get a break and perhaps attending throughout the summer would be more appealing.

To Recap:  A possible reason for a summer break, is that we are so busy throughout the year that when summer comes, we are just done and ready to rest.

To Resolve:  Schedule short breaks throughout the rest of the years, so that a summer break is not necessary.

School is Back in Session

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Does your ministry take the summer off?   This is what I experience in my home town. Women’s studies conclude, usually by the first half of May.  Women’s Brunches wait for fall to return.  Other ministries also seem to stop or at least lesson their summer load.  In some ways, it is a blessing since almost all of the conferences I like to attend happen in the summer.  The break affords me the ability to attend events where I am being poured into vs. on duty. Yet, at the same time, I feel the void of connection that comes with a break that lasts several months.

When I reflect on the last twenty plus years of ministry service, I notice that most ministries seem to run on the same schedule at the school year.  September through May is ministry season, June through August is summer break for all.   I had always viewed this as something that happened in my area due to the number of seasonal residents.  But, now that I have spoken to a few leaders outside of my home state… it seems it happens more than I realized.  Leading me to wonder if this is more common than I thought.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to explore the reasons given for taking a summer ministry break, and would love feedback from our readers too.

Here are some questions, I’d love to discuss as we get started….

Does your ministry/church take a summer break?

Do you find this break to be beneficial?  Why?

Is this a trend that you think needs to change?

Has your ministry/church successfully stopped taking summer breaks? How did you transition your members?

Out of Office

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Summer time means the WMC offices close for travel as our leaders vacation with their families & head off to conferences where we 1) learn and 2) are served.   You can not serve from an empty pitcher.  We pour out all year long, and the summer gives us an opportunity to be poured into.

WMC site posts will resume in August.

To Teach or NOT to Teach?

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When you begin connecting with Women’s Ministry leaders from across the globe, a common question/theme begins to emerge.

“I am speaking on {insert topic} … do you have any suggestions?”

“I am supposed to give a devotion on {insert topic}… can you point me to one?”

Just because you are the Women’s Ministry leader, that does not mean YOU have to deliver every topic, teach every subject.  In 20 years of Women’s Ministry Leadership, I have only personally spoken twice to the women in our church.  Twice.   Yes, I do speak at other churches.  I have led Bible Studies.  However, I’ve never positioned myself as the sole presenter of information.  Why?  Because, I am not an expert on everything.  Other women have insight, education, experience, and testimony on subjects that I will simply never qualify for.

I’ve never been divorced.  I’ve never lost a child.  I have not battled addiction.  there are things I have endured, struggles to overcome.  I can speak about conflict in friendships, the changes that come with marriage over the decades.  My personal strengths bend toward apologetics and leadership development.  I know my lane, and I choose to stay in it.

The Lord may give you a vision for a topic to address, something that the women need to hear… but it doesn’t mean that He has appointed you the person to deliver that message.

As a leader, we should learn about the women in our church and ministry team.  Perhaps there is someone with the gift of writing and speaking that is better suited to deliver the messages.  There may be a woman who has walked a hard road that will speak truths about God in the midst of her crisis that will carry further than any word you would ever utter.  You may find that there is a woman with a depth of knowledge that surpasses anyone serving on your team, who sits down the row from you every Sunday morning.

It is our job to identify these women and equip them to share their experiences with others.  It is a gift to these women to be able to share from their life, how God has encountered them and become present in their circumstances.  It is also a gift to those who will receive the message, to hear from the perspectives of others.  When we invite women to share from within the body, we also open the doors of intimacy and connection among our members.  When we invite someone from outside the body to speak, we expand the world before our women to see that they are not alone or unique in their struggles.

Whether you are utilizing women from within your church to teach/speak, or invite someone in as a guest speaker, you are exercising wisdom in how you reach the women the Lord has put in your charge.  Knowing where your expertise ends and another’s begins is a solid leadership tool we should all embrace.   An added blessing, is that you are released from feeling the responsibility of knowing everything, all of the time.

Instead, reach out and connect with other leaders.  Share with one another, speak at each others’ events, introduce leaders from other churches to women in your ministry that have a story to tell.  We are all one body, of many parts, working toward sharing God’s love with everyone.  Our unique perspectives help us reach more people.

This does not mean that a leader can’t learn and present information on topics that she is not intimately involved in.  Rather, that we make sure before we tackle the subject, we first look to the women God has put in our lives to ensure there is not someone who has already been qualified in the topic.

Do You Know?

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When I was in retail management, we had a strategic plan for employees who wanted to advance through leadership positions.  It was called “G.O.A.L.S.” and the acronym stands for:  Growth – Opportunity – Advancement – Leadership – Success.

In the years since, I have used this acronym for quite a few different purposes, redefining it as needed.  Today, let’s look at what G.O.A.L.S. would look like for ministry.

GROWTH –   In previous articles we have addressed how numerical growth is not always a sign of success, especially in ministry.  It may ensure we can pay our bills and provide the volunteers to get work done.  The kind of growth we are looking for, as a ministry, should be spiritual growth.  Have we witnessed those who are under our care take steps forward in their spiritual walk.  Are they bearing good fruit?  Do they seem more confident in the Word?  Is their prayer life a higher priority?

OPPORTUNITY – There are two different types of opportunity that we can assess in our ministry work.  The first, is the opportunity to serve.  Have we made an effort to get to know the women in the church, and learn (or help her discover) their spiritual gifts?  Are their opportunities being presented to the women to serve within the church (or under the church in the community)?  The second, have we prepared our women for the opportunity to share the gospel?  We should be taking the time to train our women on how to recognize when the opportunity is presenting itself, and the confidence in how to share the gospel with others.

ADVANCEMENT –  To advance is to move forward, or move upward.  In assessing our ministry, we need to evaluate if we are providing room for advancement.  As a woman increases in her leadership ability, is there somewhere she can be placed to serve in that capacity?  Has the leadership created an environment where our team members are not trapped in long term commitment to serve with us, but instead have the freedom in knowing that if God is calling them up/out of ministry and into another we support that advancement.

LEADERSHIP – Have we created a pathway for the identification, development, and deploying of women in leadership positions within our ministry, church, or organization?  Leadership does not always look like a full time staff member with a title, leadership is one woman leading another woman in a mentoring relationship.  Leadership is overseeing a ministry or service area.  Leadership is taking on a task or project that the woman is gifted in.  Leadership is training other leaders.

SUCCESS – Ministry leaders should have an ongoing conversation with their overseers (Pastor/Elder/Deacon) about how the church measures success.  Additionally, the ministry itself should also have a measure for success.  We need to be able to look at each event, activity, offering and determine if it is successful or not.  This is how we know if an event should be offered again in the future, revamped, or scrapped completely.  Just because it is a “good thing” doesn’t mean it is a “God thing”.  We need to discern the difference, so that in all things we are working for His glory and His purpose.