MEMPHIS – Benevolence ministries to help out with food or utility bills are nothing new, but one church in northeast Missouri is taking things a step further.
“It’s been a great way to reach people with the gospel that previously we haven’t had a very open door to,” said Dan Hite, pastor of First Baptist Church.
First Baptist’s Helping Hand not only provides financial assistance with necessary expenses, it folds in biblical counseling in areas of need and volunteer work opportunities. It is like the old adage that you shouldn’t just give out fish; you should teach people how to fish. Not only that, the church and individual Christians get to build relationships with the newly minted “fisherman.”
“If you just help someone pay a bill, sometimes you’re not really helping find out what’s going on in their life,” Hite said. “By building that relationship through Helping Hand, we get to know them over time and through that there’s ample opportunity to share Christ as they see the fruit of their day’s labor.”
Those needing one-time financial assistance might be helped with no conditions, but those frequently seeking assistance or who have a greater need have another option. The church evaluates their situation, examines the causes and offers counseling based on biblical principles. They work with people on resumes, filling out job applications and setting up interviews and follow-ups, each of which earns them credits toward reducing their financial crisis.
Credits can also be earned through Bible studies, working through a biblical finances book, and volunteer opportunities at the church and community ministries so those receiving help to give back. Volunteers through this ministry have helped to maintain the church grounds including landscape maintenance, weed control in driveways and First Baptist’s community garden, and watering, harvesting and delivering garden produce, cleaning church vehicles, regularly shampooing the carpets in the church, helping in preparation of midweek ministries, helping in midweek ministries, assisting with the local school’s Tiger Pack Program and monthly food distribution at the food pantry.
“It’s not a ‘nod nod, wink wink’ you’re going to do labor to pay off your bill type of thing,” Hite said. “We’re trying to help people move their lives forward, while building those relationships. We’ve had more people come to Christ through this ministry than through our Vacation Bible School or other ministries over the past few years, and that’s saying something. Some of the people that have come into the Helping Hand program have come, gotten themselves out of a hole, and then come back to help even without receiving those credits.”
In order to stay in the 12-year-old program, First Baptist requires regular church attendance on Sunday as they are receiving help, and when working volunteer hours, they must show up on time. Hite said he spends at least one full day per week meeting with people in the program, helping them develop God-honoring goals to meet their other needs (parenting, substance abuse, etc.) as well as planting that gospel seed. It’s also a ministry tool that Hite says could easily be replicated at any church in Missouri.
“It can work at any level,” he said. “It really helps open doors to share the gospel in small communities.”