Don’t Help

by Steve Matthews, Senior Associate Consultant with FaithX

As a consultant working with redeveloping churches and communities, I am always on the hunt for stories and expressions of transforming practice.  Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Community in Unexpected Places by Mike Mather is a book that fits the bill.  Mike Mather was the pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis during a profound shift.  For many years, the church offered excellent services and outreach to their community, but over time they realized that they weren’t effecting lasting change in the lives of the people they served.

The church decided to celebrate and end many of the fine service programs they had developed.  They hung a sign in the church that said, “Don’t help.”

Don’t help?  What?  Without our outreach ministries geared toward helping our neighbors, who are we as Christians?  At Broadway UMC, not “helping” was not an immediate transition, and it was not done without a sincere intent toward more transforming behaviors.  The church moved from helping to noticing, naming, and nurturing the gifts of its neighbors.  Mather writes,  “In faith communities, we’re often more interested in helping people than in seeing equality achieved. We’re more interested in seeing ourselves as the helping ones than in re-ordering the social order so that fewer people are desperate for help.”

I would encourage you to read the stories in this book (maybe order it and buy it from your local bookstore).  They are inspiring and provoking (in the best kind of way).

What is your relationship with your neighbors and those you “serve”?  Are you curious about who they are and what matters to them?  Do you know their gifts/ abilities/ dreams?  As you come to know them, to whom might you connect them – someone, who might help them take the next step toward activating their gifts for the common good?

As Broadway pivoted away from serving their neighbors and toward deepening relationships, they noticed the gifts they were nurturing were multiplying.  Mather writes, “We were pleased to see that neighbors reached out to each other more often. And neighbors who used the gifts of other neighbors began to see the abundance that was both around them and within themselves. Also, when people from outside the neighborhood went ‘inside’ and hired someone to cook a meal, bought a piece of art, or got their nails done, they began to see ostensibly needy people as artists, economists, musicians, chefs, and entrepreneurs.”

How might FaithX accompany you into a deeper relationship with your neighbors?  To learn more about the work of Broadway United Methodist Church and its presence in the neighborhood, buy the book and check out this TED talk by neighborhood resident and church member DeAmon Harges.