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The Fine Line

by Adam Hofer, April 2022

Finding the fine line between compassion and accountability is one of the most challenging parts of ministry. Ministry is not about feeling good or doing things that make you feel bubbly inside. Ministry is about pointing people to Jesus and directing them away from sinful behaviors that bring forth brokenness in their lives. However, our culture around us often teaches us that ministry is merely about giving people stuff or money. If only that homeless man had $1000 in his bank account, he could get back on his feet. If only he had new clothing, he could get hired within the week. We often think of ministry in a material kind of way, an earthly way. We treat all kinds of poverty as if the poverty that plagues them is merely financial. In reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that our culture around us promotes that hand-outs will solve most problems that plague our community. Generosity is good! However, generosity could cause more harm than good if not done appropriately. Do you know what breaks my heart? Hearing panhandler friends tell me that they put the money they collect in a hat at the end of each day to be used to buy strong liquor to feed their addiction. That breaks my heart because I know them by name. Could it be that our misplaced generosity has become an endorsement of brokenness? Could it be that addressing all forms of poverty as if it is merely financial is helping struggling people subsist in their brokenness?

Throwing resources at people is often seen as compassionate. Being compassionate feels so good! However, ministry work also involves accountability, time, and relationship-building. What our guests need more than anything is Jesus Christ and His love. Love does not mean endorsing unhealthy behaviors. Love does, however, endorse transformation and healthy living. Many of our guests were born in darkness, abuse, and chaos. As they grow up, they become deeply afraid of the darkness around them. However, they learned to see in the darkness. That is all they know! They need to see the light of Jesus! That requires more than being in their presence for an hour handing out stuff and then walking away to never see them again. They are used to that. What they need most of all is for YOU to demonstrate His love continually and walk alongside them through their victories and battles.

To bring forth change, a wholistic approach must be adopted to address a person’s spiritual, physical, mental/emotional, social, and financial health. At the Center of Hope, we do our best to discern first if our guests want to get well. Then, we determine what kind of poverty plagues them and address that poverty in appropriate ways. All of our programs (Geared To Empower, Earn-Your-Way Work Assistance, Care Center, Pastoral Ministry, etc.) are about giving people a hand-up rather than a hand-out. Hand-outs are appropriate if done seldom and temporary. However, a hand-out culture creates dependency, entitlement, and discourages work. We take seriously our task to help struggling people in our community. However, our approach is all about EMPOWERMENT. We recognize that EMPOWERING people to use their God-given gifts to bless our community is more important than giving them money or resources that will help them survive for the day. We want them to THRIVE for their lifetime. All the resources we offer are tools of EMPOWERMENT, but we don’t stop there. We offer our continued presence as we walk forward together…on the fine line.

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