Navigating Dependency

We have a neighbor that has taken a liking to us.  By taking a liking to us I mean she calls, comes over or catches us on the street and asks us for help.  Sometimes it is a ride to the grocery store, sometimes it is asking us to buy her a phone card, other days it is asking us for furniture, to buy food she is selling our of her kitchen, etc.

That “etc.” is a funny thing to add because from day to day we never know what it is going to be with her.  Initially, we were open and glad to help.  Driving her around town to fill our this paper, helping her find clothes at this place and helping her wasn’t a problem.  We love Jesus and we’re glad to help.

But lately it is getting somewhat out of hand.  I made the mistake of giving her my phone number and since then it has been three texts a day asking for something.  Her daily trips to our front door have gone from great opportunities to eye rolls and sighs.

I am weighing through some ideas that keep finding their way to me from Toxic Charity as well as When Helping Hurts. What keeps resurfacing is the difference between creating dependency and empowering people to answer their own needs.  Empowering is very important to us as an organization, so much of what we do is targeted at teaching others skills that they can then take to better their lives, families and community.  But it is amazing how important that is to us as an organization, but how poorly we’ve modeled that in our first test with our first neighbor.

I don’t know what the right answer is, or even how we empower someone who needs a ride every day to do that on their own.  I don’t know what that looks like.  But what I do know is what dependence looks like: her on our porch every day.

Any suggestions would be helpful.


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About coleyoakum

My name is Coleman Yoakum. I am formerly a student at Harding University. Today you can find me in Detroit Michigan doing what I can to expand the Kingdom of God and preparing to start an intentional community in Pontiac. I enjoy reading, writing, photography, music and politics. I am sure that all of these things will find their way to this blog from time to time. Twitter: coleyoakum Facebook: Coleman Yoakum Email: Flickr:

One response to “Navigating Dependency”

  1. Greg Parks says :

    Hey Coleman: This current post made me think back to an earlier one entitled “Pastors Only Bathroom.” In that post you said the following:

    “It is difficult to watch churches go through the growing pains of getting back to the mission that Jesus appointed for us. We as Christians getting back to this mission can very easily go through the legalism of helping others—making rules about outreach. Making policy about helping others..”

    Your phrase about “making policy about helping others” had sort of touched a nerve with me, honestly. Clearly the way the church in your example was segregating its bathrooms was not in line with Christ, but churches writing up Benevolence Policies are doing so for good reason- they do it because of the exact situation you described in this post about dependency. Our church has a Benevolence Committee and a set of guidelines and procedures for aiding people in the community. Why? Several reasons:

    Because it is not money out of our own pocket but the church’s funds that we are deciding how best to use. Your example about the $20 for the girl in the “bathroom” post did not really point that out. I don’t know the situation with the girl at the church you mentioned, and maybe the church did not respond properly, but maybe they knew something you and your friend did not- who knows? I’m not really here to comment on that situation but to just say that it’s easy to come down on a church for not helping someone when it’s not you making the decision, and what looks like “church legalism” can also be “good stewardship” of church resources so that the truly needy are helped.

    Because we, too, do not want to create an environment of dependency but empower people to meet their own needs, and sometimes that means saying “No” after a certain point. Our goal is to “meet a need, not continue a lifestyle.”

    And because we want our funds to go to help genuinely needy people, and not be wasted on those who seek to scam, defraud, and “mooch” We can help those people in other ways without handing them cash, like talking to them about honesty & self-respect, and, certainly, the Gospel

    Since putting together this Benevolence Committee & procedures, we have actually had an increase in the number of people we are able to help in better and more lasting ways.

    So I’m interested to see if Micah 6 needs to possibly write up some basic benevolence guidelines, too :) You are facing EXACTLY what churches have faced for years- helping people without keeping them dependent on you. The answer involves changed attitudes but, also, I think you will find, a good set of policies you can fall back on to make sure you help the most people in the best way possible. Policies are inevitable, and they’re not evil by default; they are part of the reality of doing real, effective ministry in a broken world!

    Good luck Coleman!

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