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Why My Church Needs Love INC

RedSquare I serve as director of care ministries at a large suburban congregation, mobilizing ministry resources to meet needs. In this role, I hear about the needs of members in our church and people in the community, and often they are heart-wrenching stories. But what also tugs my heart is how challenged our church can be to meet all these needs. Let me share some examples

RedSquare  A family of five who attended our congregation experienced an apartment fire. Their furniture was ruined, all of their clothing was smoke damaged, and their apartment was unlivable. The family had no financial reserves. Both parents worked full time and would be unable to drive their children to school if temporary housing was off the children's school bus route. They turned to our church for assistance. Their need was legitimate and we knew them.

My administrative team of three mobilized to arrange temporary housing, find clothing, and coordinate the children's transportation. We have many ministries, but only two were readily available to meet their complex needs: our food pantry and our benevolence fund. We had no system for immediately addressing the other issues the family was facing, short of dropping all other responsibilities and responding. If more than one family simultaneously had needs of a similar nature, we would be maxed out. We did what we could and put many other ministry responsibilities aside until we had ministered to this family.

RedSquare  A family with three children in the back seat of their car appeared at our church claiming homelessness and needing many resources: a place to live, jobs, gas money and food. We had no way to verify their need and we did not know them. Again the only ministries available to meet their needs were our food pantry and benevolence fund.

RedSquare  We helped a woman with a gift of cash from our benevolence fund who was later convicted and imprisoned for defrauding multiple churches for thousands of dollars. We had no way to verify the need and we did not know her.

These are just three stories of many we've encountered over the years in our church's care ministry department. Your church may have similar stories. They range from needs that are legitimate that we can barely meet with our own resources, to a seemingly valid request that we don't know how to verify, to outright fraudulent activity. How do we function as a Christ-centered church with compassion and accountability in meeting the material needs of those who appeal to the church for help?

The answer is in uniting as the Body of Christ to be what each church cannot be by itself. But how can this coming together happen?

The Body of Christ RedSquare As I pondered and prayed about a solution to this dilemma, I uncovered a booklet published by Crown Ministries on Benevolence Ministry in Your Church. The booklet clearly stated that a benevolence fund was a poor ministry approach to those in financial distress. Such a fund assuages the church's conscience concerning Christ's mandate to help the sick and the poor, but is little different than the governmental hand out programs via welfare, which has generally failed. Why? The government cannot give love. No relationships are formed, no love is attached, and no accountability to move into independence is provided. Over the years our benevolence fund was the main source of our local outreach to the needy, yet it unfortunately paralleled the secular governmental approach to those in need. Ouch. The Church is to be salt and light, not a carbon copy of the world's methodologies

The Crown Ministry brochure gave an answer, however. It explained how a well-established, 28-year-old ministry called Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) addresses these issues through its structure of mobilizing the Body of Christ, providing accountability through verifying needs, building relationships, offering love-based outreach, utilizing vast resource of abilities and talents of people in the pews, and being the Church in action. I knew this was the answer to the dilemma in our care ministries department.

I called the 800 telephone number in the Crown Ministry brochure and requested resources about the Love INC approach. When I asked where the ministry headquarters was located, to my surprise I learned it was in our Twin Cities metropolitan area!

 RedSquare I began the process described in the materials the Love INC National Headquarters provided to form a development committee for establishing our non-profit 501(c)3 affiliate. I learned that it was best to keep the activities of our affiliate geographically contained in a workable area for those needing help. Churches offering ministry could not be counties apart, as those receiving ministry could not realistically drive long distances.

Even with the clear descriptions of the Love INC model from the materials, I did not yet have the experiential sense of what a fully-functioning Love INC looked like. Is it just like a parachurch organization? Is it like a social service organization? Can't the church just tap into what is already in the community and refer the needy to them? Why invent another structure to serve the poor? The jet-liner took off and I spent a 24-hour whirl wind "vision trip" to two mature, functioning Love INC affiliates in the Grand Rapids area to answer these questions.

What I saw and experienced was bigger and more comprehensive than I had imagined from the written materials about Love INC. I saw church-connected volunteers from many denominations with love in their eyes and hearts, energized to make a difference in the lives of people in need whom they cared about and with whom they were committed to stay the course. Norma Berens, the executive director of the Love INC in Hudsonville, MI, showed us how they were offering a "hand up" out of poverty and financial crisis, rather than a "hand out" with continued failure afterwards, I saw people in compassion ministry modeled by Jesus.

RedSquare Eric Morgan, the executive director of Love INC of the Tri-Cities in Grand Haven, MI, shared a common occurrence in the single mom ministry that touched my heart. Every single mom in that community who needs a crib gets one free. As the female volunteer makes the delivery, she asks the single mom if she could take her out for coffee in a few days just to talk. Invariably, the single mom breaks down in tears because someone wants to connect with her relationally and not just be a do-gooder pushing an item at her for a feel good experience for the volunteer. Relationships are formed and mentoring in Jesus can unfold.

Eric said that he has a waiting list of volunteers. Those who are currently active guard their shifts. (If they go on vacation, they make it clear the substitutes will step aside when they return!) The volunteers I met were obviously fulfilled, have a sense of belonging, and see they are making a difference in people's lives. They are taking time to connect with people to develop relationships, rather than merely giving a box of food or a bed or a car and having no further contact. It is all about relationships, souls, and Jesus Christ-not only about things.

One church I met on our "vision trip" had declining numbers involved in ministry until Love INC was instituted. Due to the relational component of Love INC, the church experienced a dramatic increase of members involved not only in Love INC, but in the other ministries of the church.

The Michigan Love INCs were utilizing the talents and gifts of believers who never believed their assets could be used for the Lord. Typical volunteer slots in churches utilize musicians, ushers, Sunday School teachers, bulletin stuffers, small group leaders, lay counselors, nursery attendants, greeters, etc. How about using the following roles for Christ in direct ministry: butchers, hair stylists, retail store display designers, gas station owners, accountants, computer "geeks," bicycle technicians, watchmakers, shoemakers, warehouse owners, tax preparers, and many, many more? People with these talents and resources are directly in service to Christ as they contribute to Love INC ministry and touch the needy in their midst. This provides a natural platform for sharing the reason why they are serving, which is to be Jesus to them, to introduce them to Him, and to invite them into the church community. I saw this in action in Michigan.

RedSquare Can this be done here in the Greater Twin Cities? Of course, if our vision is as big as God's and as big as Love INC's track record with the Lord at the helm. What is keeping us back? We are limited because we don't have a Kingdom vision. We as churches go great work within our own circumscribed boundaries. However, the Lord's work is community wide, nationwide, worldwide. It knows no boundaries. As we unite in the name of Jesus to offer what we can in ministry involving the bigger whole of the Body of Christ, we are embracing the Lord's Kingdom vision and will move mountains. We can keep some of our boundaries, but we will invite the community of Christ into the totality that is greater than what we can each do on our own. This is Love In the Name of Christ.

RedSquare Having witnessed the vitality of the mature Love INCs in Michigan, I yearn for this in our Greater Twin Cities area. I yearn not because I want more social impact programs but because I want to model Jesus, to present  Jesus as Lord and Savior to those we reach, and to enfold them into healthy church communities where they can receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. Love INC is not a humanist good works program, but an outreach in the name of Jesus Christ that models His love.

Julie Zuehlke
- Development Committee Chair For Love INC Twin Cities West Central -

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