Ministry Ideas: B.A.G.S.

I thought it might be worthwhile to use a few posts to share some ministry ideas. Most of these will come from my own congregation, but this is not to brag. It’s just that I can only write what I know.

Lately, God has been moving powerfully in my home church to raise up ministries that do all sorts of things. These ministries are rarely initiated by the elders or staff, least of all by me. Rather, we elders have found that our role is to give permission, to provide support, and to get out of the way.

For example, one of our small groups (we call them “Acts 2 Groups”) was touched by the needs of the homeless in our community. Many in Tuscaloosa have lost their jobs due to the currrent recession, although we’ve not been hit nearly as hard as some other places.

Anyway, it’s fairly common to find someone on the street asking for food or money. Rather than “passing by on the other side,” this group decided that they should each Be A Good Samaritan — hence B.A.G.S. They made a list of what they should have on hand to give away, went shopping, and found that for $5 they could stuff a bag with simple food, a razor, water, soap, etc. The idea is that we should be prepared to be generous.

The group leader made a powerful presentation to the congregation. He explained that he’d given a bag of supplies to a homeless man. Sometime later, he saw the same man again, pulled over, and asked him how well the supplies he’d given him had worked out and whether he needed anything more. The man replied, “I really appreciate the supplies, but what I really appreciate is you taking the time just to talk to me like I matter.”

The group then sold, at cost, dozens of bags to the church to be given away as opportunities arise, with encouragement to be sure that we take the time to make the person receiving the bag feel significant.

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13 Responses to Ministry Ideas: B.A.G.S.

  1. bradstanford says:

    Glory to God!

    Can you relay the exact list of items the group decided on?

  2. Fred Albert says:

    I commend your effort to help those in such circumstances. Just think how much more could be done if we cut out or million dollar buildings and supporting a paid clergy system.

  3. Guy says:

    Jay,

    This is a great idea. Generally though, what is the proper Christian response to panhandlers? In one of my part-time jobs, i'm solicited by panhandlers with some regularity. i've worked this job for six years, and i've noticed that as soon as i make a habit of giving them some change, i get solicited with greater frequency rather quickly (word of mouth?); and when i don't give them cash, the solicitations start to subside. On multiple occasions when i've given cash to panhandlers, i've caught them in lies about their need and purpose for the money. Thus, i've come to suspect i'm honestly not helping them by giving them cash but enabling them.

    My current policy has been simply not to give out cash (because i would be drawing them to my boss's business and the grocery store in which his business is located). Instead, i've offered them food instead. But i always feel guilty everytime i turn them down for money. Why? If i believe i have a wise policy, why do i still experience guilt?

    Part of it, i know, is because i doubt my own policy. Maybe i should give and then let the use or misuse be on their shoulders? i've met Christians who adopted that practice, and i greatly admired them; so it's difficult to adopt an opposing practice in light of that admiration. Maybe i shouldn't suspect from the start that they'll misuse the money or that i'll be enabling? Well, maybe, but i'm not kidding, i've been burned dozens of times by these guys who seemed rather believable but turned out to be scammers.

    Truth is, i'm genuinely unsure where radical Christ-like compassion and practical Christian wisdom intersect on this issue. Help please?

    Guy

  4. Kyle says:

    I know you asked Jay, Guy, but I also struggle with your ideas so I thought I would add to the conversation (my apologies for butting in).

    I've always found the words, "that which you did not do to the least of these, you did not do to me." hauntingly beautiful. Beautiful because of the unity it connects between Jesus and all of mankind and haunting because of the practical applications of this idea (also in connections with the idea of entertaining angels from Hebrews).

    I don't want to miss any opportunity to help anyone, I want to look at Jesus and say I did my best, I made the most of every opportunity to serve. So what if they lie, so what if I'm wronged, part of forgiveness is taking on the burden of being wronged…it's what Jesus does to me and so I want to do that for others.

    But I also want to think about systemic solutions to problems. The Jewish Talmud actually outlined four ways of helping the poor….the least desirable one was actually hand outs (for a variety of reasons). The most desirable was helping them find work, and giving them jobs and providing secretly.

    I believe a practical Christian response is to give handouts, to whomever asks( I mean really is handing out $2 really that a great of a burden to bear), but to also seek ways in which we help lift the poor off their feet, help them find jobs. This requires us to have relationships and to learn needs. It's a Christianize, teach a man to fish idea.

    And for greater expenses I send people ot a ministry we have dedicated to meeting those financial burdens…good practical wisdom knowing who can say "no" when necessary…and it's not me =). Thanks for letting me think about that Guy.

  5. bradstanford says:

    Guy:
    We used to have "bum money" in our car, to make sure we were always ready to give a handout, for three reasons: 1) Jesus didn't say to give if we know the receiver will be wise with the gift (much like salvation); 2) as mentioned, it's Jesus I'm giving to, not some random person; and 3) there, but by the grace of God go I (I might be next, in other words). I say "used to", because now that we're in the country, we don't encounter the homeless any more. Not sure why.

    At the same time I think we should be prepared for the divine appointment, Christians should also be working on social problems on a larger scale. In other words, our duty is to bring the Kingdom, our calling is to be the good Samaritan. It's like tithe and offering: both are expected to be a healthy part of a Christian's life. Tithe was just duty. Offering was from the heart.

    What the world needs to see is God's people as an endless supply of resources. They don't see that currently because we don't really believe that.

    God loves a good one-upmanship. If you were to tell God, "Oh, what – you're sending me the homeless? Alright – I see you, and raise you. I'm going to give them even more money AND I'm going to tell them about you until they leave me alone." Then watch God provide. Also, you will get to see Him smile. And a hundred and one other blessings.

    What you have before you is an opportunity to engage with God on a very powerful level for you and others. God is calling you out. Don't miss the blessing – bring the Kingdom!

  6. Jay Guin says:

    I've asked the ministry leader and will post the answer when I receive it.

  7. Guy says:

    Jay–just so you know–you're "subscribe-to-comments-by-email" option has never worked for me. i never get the emails.

    Thanks to all who gave me something to chew on. You've challenged me in a good way.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    Brad,

    Here's the list of what they put in each bag —

    2 Bottles of Water
    2 Cups of Applesauce
    2 Cereal Bars
    2 Cans of Vienna Sausages
    2 Packs of Crackers
    2 Packs of Peanuts
    1 Pack of Cookies
    1 Set of Plasticware
    10 Moist Towelettes
    2 Bars of Hotel Soap
    1 Comb
    1 Razor
    1 Toothbrush
    1 Travel Toothpaste
    1 New Testament Bible

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Guy,

    When you subscribe, you should receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Once you respond to that, the emails begin.

    You may need to check your spam filter to see if the confirmation email is getting trapped in your Spam, Junk, or Deleted folder.

  10. Erin says:

    i really really like this idea

  11. The BAGS type of ministry is simple yet effective and can be extended in many ways.

    In the 1990s, we lived in Lagos, Nigeria. There were beggars everywhere. Beggars owned groups of children who begged for them. If you gave money to the children, the chief took it away from them. My wife kept small bags of peanuts in the car and gave those to the children. The chief didn't get any money and the kids had something to eat during the day.

    People constantly asked us for money in Lagos. They were not beggars, but they were not in a good situation. My wife and I had a weekly charity budget. We gave it away every week.

    A similar situation in Washington D.C. We know many people who commute into D.C. to work and see homeless people on the street daily. We told them about our charity budget. Several things they could do in D.C., one was to make sandwiches (a few a day, a few a week, whatever was budgeted) and give them to homeless people. It works, the homeless have something to eat, the Christian is loving them and feeding them.

  12. Guy says:

    i’m still milling over everyone’s advice. But i wanted to say, i notice that the ministry idea is about bags of supplies and not cash. Is it always wise to just hand solicitors cash? Should i be inclined toward supplying a more basic need like food or clothing? Or should i hand out cash no matter what my assessment of the solicitor if that’s what he/she asked for?

    –Guy

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Guy,

    Like many, I prefer to avoid giving cash, because cash can be too easily converted to booze or drugs. One advantage of the BAGS idea is that it's for food and other staples.

    I know people who keep McDonalds gift certificates on hand for the same reason — and I think that's a good idea as well.

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