Tag Archives: #charity

The kindness we give v. The kindness that is needed

Kindness is so in right now. It’s been in for a while actually, especially since Ellen DeGeneres became so huge with her mantra of “Be kind to one another.” Its a great mantra and I love how she uses it. Side note – when I was pregnant with my first child, I’d watch Ellen and sobbed uncontrollably “Coz, she gave them a car! That’s so beautifuuuuuul <sob sob hiccup sob>” (It was the hormones).

Her mantra took off like wildfire because it felt like, in a cold and demanding world, she was the only one saying it. That’s sad. Firstly it’s sad because kindness shouldn’t be such a rarity. For starters, it’s central to the Christian message. And while one might argue that not everyone is Christian, most of our western civilisation is built from Christian principles so it’s sad that it has become such an alien concept in our culture.

In Exodus 34:6-7 God passes in front of Moses “proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love [hesed] and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

The key word in the original Hebrew here is hesed. It means so much more than “love”. It is deeds of devotion, acts of loyalty and favour, mercy, kindness, faithfulness and goodness. God abounds in it.

God wants us to abound in it too. In Micah 6:8 we are told what God requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy [hesed] and to walk humbly with your God.

This love and kindness is central to God and to us as Christians. So how has it become forgotten?

Well, this comes to a second reason for sadness – It feels as though kindness (which requires powers of observation, thoughtfulness, willingness and effort) is culturally at war with self interest. It’s sad because it feels as though self interest is winning – and we’re all getting swept up in it. We are human and prone to sin which means we are wired to think of ourselves first. But we are culturally trained too. This means we have to work doubly hard to overcome our natural and learned-behavioural inclinations.

Jesus knew this. In Luke, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. He tells the story of a man beaten, robbed and left for dead and the priest and the Levite leave him – in the war between kindness and self-interest, self-interest wins.

The Samaritan cared for him and Jesus asks which of the men were a true neighbour? The reply is “the one who had mercy [eleos] on him”. The Greek word eleos (because bear in mind the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek) is the word the Greek speaking world used to translate the Old Testament word hesed. So this shows us that the same mercy Jesus speaks of in Luke, is also the hesed of Micah and in God’s character we see described in Exodus.

Read the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. As you do, don’t imagine yourself as the Samaritan. Imagine yourself as the helpless, broken and robbed person who has been left for dead. And imagine God is the Good Samaritan who found you and healed you and saved you and blessed you. So when, in Luke 10:37, Jesus says “go and do likewise”, we are not to do as the Good Samaritan did – we are to do as God does.

This is something that can be a barrier for us. Because that’s pretty huge. So we imagine if we are to give kindness, they are acts of enormous import and grand gestures. We are to bring a homeless person into our homes. We are to spend our weekends volunteering at a shelter. We should give all our money away.

And kindness may well include those kinds of things. But in the war between kindness and self-interest, kindness is more usually a million small things.

Remember how you felt when you needed kindness. When I have been at my lowest, I prayed simply for the kindness of strangers. I wanted someone to look me in the eye and to hear me and to help me see for one moment that I mattered. Sure, I needed money and help, but what I prayed for was simply for strangers to be kind – for the cashier to smile at me, for the person next to me to stoop and help when I dropped my groceries on the floor, for another passenger to hold the door of the bus open as I ran to catch it. That’s the kindness that I needed. Not big grand gestures.

We don’t need to have kindness in and of itself be a barrier for us, because we are fearful of the level of kindness we are able to give. We need to only remember the kindness that is needed. The giving of kindness is only partially about you and what you are able to give. It is also about what situation you are presented with and what is needed by others.

Sometimes we are able to give a lot, on many levels. But sometimes it’s a word, a smile, a touch on the arm and a look in the eye that says “I see you and you matter.”

God sees us and we matter to him. He abounds in this love. We are to abound in it too, but we are not God. We are not expected to give as much or in the same way as God. We are to love hesed. Our acts of kindness are acts of devotion to God, reflecting his love back to him. We are to go and do likewise, having the eleos of God, being observant and seeing people and showing them (in many ways) that they matter. Each of us must think and pray about what that means. But it is central to God’s call for us. It is central to our Christian way of life.

Kindness is not counter-cultural for us. But it is counter-cultural in our world. Show kindness. Show love. Abound in it. See kindness as acts of devotion to God. Shock the world with the kindness we have – that we have because of him.

An important diagnostic for us, and a gentle challenge for our churches

When I meet ministers or visit a new church, I have three questions that give me an immediate insight into the leadership, direction and culture of that church. These questions aren’t designed to give me ammunition, they are purely to give me insight. That’s the beauty of diagnostic questions – they reveal the state of play. There is no moral weighting attached to the answer, it’s just to establish fact.

The first question is “What is your theology?” This is to make sure I’m going to get good, bible-based teaching. This does not query quality, just foundation. I need to make sure the church is founded on Reformed Evangelical theology.

The second question is “Who is in charge of pastoral care?”. If the answer is “Everyone” that may sound good, but is actually concerning to me. Because if everyone is in charge of pastoral care, then nobody is. Pastoral care needs to be headed up by a minister (paid or lay minister doesn’t matter, as long as it’s one person with responsibility and authority). Someone needs to have overall oversight to make sure pastoral care is a) happening, b) is happening effectively, c) is proactive and not reactive and c) that ensures that the people doing the pastoral care are trained and coached and supported and have the resources they need.

If pastoral care has no minister in charge or proactive leadership, if pastoral care is delegated to small group leaders, this is a concern. Small group leaders and congregational leaders will undoubtedly do most of the care, but it needs to be led by a minister. If it isn’t, the message it sends is that pastoral care is not important. That may well not be true, but that’s the message it sends. And if it is not led by a minister, it may not be part of the culture. It may lack focus and direction, it will lack communication and effectiveness. If we want a church where pastoral care is cultural, it is important for us to know who leads this.

As my first gentle challenge to our churches, I would like ministers to know that this is important to us parishioners. I would ask ministers to consider leadership in this area and recognise the perception (and reality?) that if everyone is in charge of pastoral care then nobody is. Maybe it’s time for a stocktake. Are your people really ok? Is the pastoral care proactive? Is it cultural?

My third question may be the most controversial. It is “How much does the church give?” That is not how much do your parishioners give. This question is about how much does the church give – specifically, give away. Now, bear with me on this because it sounds like a desperately unfair question. Our churches barely have enough to keep themselves afloat without giving anything away.

But let’s look at this another way. Generosity is rarely “caught” by being taught. Generosity is usually caught and spread by being modelled. I spoke to a Presbyterian minister in Sydney’s outer suburbs and he answered “We give about 10% That’s not a deliberate number, it just generally adds up to about that.” I spoke to an Anglican minister in Sydney’s inner suburbs and they also give a substantial amount – enough to pay for additional part time member of staff if that’s what they wanted to do. But they don’t. They want to model generosity by donating a part of their parishioner given income to a variety of Christian charities and missions.

It’s also important for church integrity and authenticity. Churches want (and need!) parishioners to give and to give generously and joyfully. Given that that is the case, it feels as though it would be right and proper for the church to also give sacrificially. To ask others to sacrifice, but not do so as an institution feels lacking in generosity. If we are to exercise generosity of spirit, and engender a generous and joyfully giving church, then I would gently challenge churches to start giving.

This is a gentle challenge because I understand the financial pressures that churches face. I believe a challenge is warranted however because the parishioners who are asked to give, are also facing pressures. What would we say to a parishioner who wants to give but feels they can’t because of the financial pressure they are under? First of all – grace. We don’t know a persons (or a church’s) story. But if we would encourage the person to step out in faith and if we would motivate them to give what they could – then I would direct these responses to our churches also.

Churches are under immense financial pressure. But I believe that churches should challenge themselves and step out in faith and give what they can – even starting with a few dollars a week. My apologies to any minister reading this and thinking its patronising. I certainly don’t mean it to be. I also don’t mean it to be remotely judgemental. I am merely describing what is important to me in a church and what (for me) reveals where the heart of a church is. I do not believe that generosity can be delegated to an external body. For example, encouraging people to give directly to CMS or Anglicare or BaptistCare or Compassion does not count. As worthwhile as that is, it is not generosity. Churches cannot abdicate responsibility for generosity. Generosity is a non-delegable duty.

I have noticed that the churches who give away resources, tend to have the strongest cultures of generosity. Because culture comes from the top and if the church gives and models generosity, the people are more likely to give and be generous more quickly, more instinctively, and more joyfully. This doesn’t mean those churches are devoid of financial worries. It’s just a noticeable difference in churches I’ve seen.

For any ministers reading this who’s churches do give, I want to thank you and appreciate you for the sacrifice and the hard choices. If you are a minister reading this and your church has not felt in a position to give, I want to thank you for reading this far! My gentle challenge to you, brothers and sisters, is that this is a step out in faith. But it will be one that throws ripples throughout your church.

If you are a church-goer reading this, these diagnostic questions are important – but they should never be used to judge. That is not our job and it’s not healthy, productive or helpful to point fingers or complain. We need to be gracious and understanding. We need to be proactive, positive and helpful. A church having the capacity to self-reflect on these matters should be nothing but praised and respected.

I also think it is important to ask these questions though. We are sheep and Jesus is our good shepherd. But that doesn’t mean we are mindless followers in our churches. It is important to review where the heart of the church is.

We want our churches to be strong, vibrant and teeming with a generosity of spirit that is so visible to our communities that it is shocking to them – shocking in all the best and most wonderful ways.