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Lessons Learned

Mistakes in home repair ministry we have made and learned from so you don\'t have to.

Driving Outreach May Be Easier Than You Think

2014 Church ConferenceWe've been blessed to be able to attend a couple church conferences, and they have been exciting opportunities to talk with leaders, from churches, who see the possibilities of a home repair team in their church. They see a team as a great way to meet some critical needs of the most vulnerable members of their congregations (particularly widows, the elderly, single mothers and people with mobility challenges), and as a tangible way to express God’s, and their, love to their congregants by serving them (John 13:35).

We try to communicate with church leaders that there is also a great outreach opportunity for churches. Home Repair can be a kind of “low-hanging” fruit as outreach goes, since once you make some community connections and know where to find needs, you’ll have people inviting your people into their homes to help. Pretty cool!

The discussions also reinforced that home repair ministry is more bottom-up than top-down. It was encouraging to see that the church leaders, by and large, seemed to get that. You just need to find the right "driver", and most often, this person is not staff. It's a matter of finding your church’s handy (and motivated) people, recruiting them to lead your ministry, and if an extra "push" is needed, providing some resources to help them get started. HRM would like to help make your job a little easier! We have a library of content available to help arm home repair ministry leaders (actual or prospective) with information to start and grow their own team!

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And now a couple questions that we’d love your feedback on. Just click on "Leave a comment" below this post and let us know your experiences.

1) If your church has a home repair team, how did you find and engage your leader? Would it have helped the process to have some documentation for how to run a home repair ministry beforehand?

2) If you don’t have a team, have you tried? What was the response from the person(s) you approached?


Avoiding the Dependency Trap

I’ve been involved in mercy ministry for many years and feel that a home repair ministry is one of the most helpful ministries out there. Following is a bit of my heart about that. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, as I am, in your support of the ministry.

I remember serving in a soup kitchen and feeling as though I wasn’t helping much. The Lord put a high value on feeding the hungry (Matt 25: 31-46), so a soup kitchen is necessary, but addressing the immediate need isn’t always enough. My sense of falling short came because feeding/clothing, etc. often doesn’t move a person beyond needing someone to provide tomorrow’s soup.

TrainingMinistries that teach people skills to improve their current situation, such as job training, are classified as a developmental. But even that has sometimes left me feeling unsatisfied. My training is that I should aspire to become an advocate for “the poor,” working to change laws that hold people in the chains of oppression. So I can always find things to make me feel guilty about ministry, whether from biblical teaching or just my personality problems (of which there are many!). Ministries of mercy can be very complicated, even downright messy.

The good news (not specifically the Gospel, this time) is that a home repair ministry is in a unique spot. First, many of the people we serve are in situations where a repair is not likely to create a recurring dependency - an immediate need gets addressed and is unlikely to happen again soon after. On top of that, the situations we encounter seldom are due to a homeowner’s vice (unless neglect due to a lack of income is a vice) but all things are in decay. We help address the problem or needed change and the person gets on with her life. For example, a team builds a handicap ramp and the homeowner can now get in and out of the house. Good to go. Or an old roof is replaced with one that will outlive the owner and the structure of the house is protected.

Building a rampDevelopmental training of home owners to do home repairs isn’t often helpful, though tips on maintenance can be. Training an elderly diabetic amputee about wheelchair ramp construction isn’t likely to be useful to him. As for political advocacy, apart from legislation against people aging and homes decaying, there’s not much to do apart from more government funding of unlimited needs from limited resources.

In the last couple few years, several books have been written by people who have extensive experience working with “the poor”. Just hearing the titles of the books makes me stop and think: When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, and Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton. To a simple person like me who likes to address problems wearing a tool belt, while helping others to do the same, all of that knowledge tends to be “bad news” – making efforts to help people even more complicated and messy.

But now, let me take you back to the “good news”: The issues raised in these books generally don’t apply to our ministry. The people we serve face some very difficult situations, but their problems are not usually brought on by laziness or chronic dependency. While we can’t fix all of their difficulties, we can keep homes from becoming a toxic problem that hurts!

Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if a project were followed up by relational people who visit the homeowner (who didn’t learn to fix the roof) and bring some of our monthly mailing envelopes to stuff, together, while talking about the love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus (the BEST NEWS of all). Dependency on the Savior is exactly where He wants us! I Peter 5:7 — "...casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you." If you have good relational, evangelistic skills, and live in the Atlanta area (even if you don’t have tool skills), we can use you. Please contact me and we’ll plug you in.


Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part Two

In Monday's blog post, we shared a bit about how we get project referrals and set guidelines and expectations with homeowners. This is necessary because one of the risks that we face, as mercy ministries, is getting scammed. So how do you put some safeguards in place to minimize this risk and vet the people you serve?

Some ideas that will help, but none are foolproof:

  • Request recommendations from someone that knows them and their situation, e.g. their local church, social worker, hospital staff, senior services agency or even their medical professional.
  • Get their last 3 payroll stubs or Social Security receipts, etc.
  • Make sure they own the house, get copy of utility bills.
  • Take a look at the house, cars, furniture, etc. Do the pieces fit into a familiar pattern of hurt or is something awry?

If you take a volunteer into the wrong house that sends all of the wrong signals, your volunteer may be busy the next time you ask for help.

November 2012 Roof ProjectA word of caution, however. We want to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community. People in some communities have been practicing “survive any way you can” for generations. There are also many who, entirely legitimately, are hurting for reasons beyond their control. We sometimes talk about people hurting for three reasons: their own sin, someone’s sin against them and disasters/situations beyond anyone’s control (See Timothy Keller's excellent Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road for more detail on this). If the latter two cases are the reason, it would be terrible to have God’s resources available but withhold them because you heard about an outright scam by someone else. If my God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (real meaning: God owns everything), then I think He’s more concerned about my heart than being absolutely sure about the people that ask us for help. I’d much rather get scammed than not help one who has been sent by the Lord – it really helps to be listening to God’s Spirit to understand what to do.

It reminds me of a couple of passages of scripture: Matthew 10:16 - "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Deuteronomy 15:11 - " . . . I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’" Matthew 5:16 - "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

It isn’t easy, but it is God’s will that we are the conduit of his grace and mercy.


Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part One

My co-worker Jim and I spoke with a representative of Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta about being available to help those living in homes built by their chapter. We explained that two ways we get referrals are 1) from agencies that have pre-qualified the person needing help, and 2) those that hear about us or find out about us and initiate the contact. #1 is by far our preference because someone else has determined that the family is eligible for help.

Distressed House#2 raises some challenges. The first can be found in me: Tell me that someone has something for nothing and I might just get into the line. The same kind of thing happens with very nice citizens in the community. “Oh, HRM does home repairs for nothing? Well, put me on the list for new exterior paint job, break up and replace my old driveway, repaint all of my rooms with faux marbre columns and a Trompe L'oeil Mediterranean window scene, replace my dark granite countertops with lighter ones, . . . Oh, this is for people who cannot afford to make repairs, often to keep the home from being condemned, or under threat of paying a fine for not keeping the property up?“

A while back, we were at someone’s house when they heard what we do and were more than happy to let us help them until I used “dire circumstances” to describe what we do and he realized that he’d misunderstood.

Here's a real-life example of why we need to have some discernment. About a year and a half ago, we got word, from several sources, about a family that was homeschooling, closely connected to a home school group, and lived next door to someone from my church. The mother was fighting a losing battle with cancer, in and out of the hospital, getting meals brought in by many families, and having respiratory problems due to old carpet in the house. Six months after getting carpet donated and installed by HRM volunteers, we were called by a police detective to find out about what we’d done to help. It seems that the husband and wife had been scamming people for a long time, she was in jail, and there were many people who considered her to be a friend, really angry with her.

So, you want some suggestions on how to vet those you serve and how to balance love and discernment? Come back Friday for Part Two.


Should We Take the Project?

Once your home repair team is taking projects it is important to have criteria by which you can make a "go/no go" decision.

It is generally good practice not to make a snap decision on helping if there is any doubt. Get back to the team and talk about it. Make a visit or even multiple visits to the site with more people, if questions remain. It is easy to tell the homeowner that you need to present the information to the team so that they can make a decision.

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. It could be as simple as sending a father and son to change the flush mechanism of a leaky toilet. It may not even be necessary to make a pre-project site visit. Let the person visiting the site evaluate and complete a project if possible.

What criteria will be used to evaluate a project and Go/No Go?

Projects should be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Broken down houseSize: Is it feasible for the team to tackle the project in terms of time and people needed?
  • Safety: Can you do the project without putting the homeowner, ministry, or volunteers at risk?
  • Skills Required: Does the team have the skills required to complete the project? You can run off your volunteers if you give them projects that they don't know how to handle.
  • Repair or Improvement: If the project is deemed a repair, it is eligible for volunteer assistance. If an improvement, unless it is absolutely necessary, it automatically becomes a referral to a professional. The exception to this is when an improvement is necessary because of a specific, critical situation (i.e. handicapped ramps). Sometimes special projects (playgrounds, fences) are considered if they make the home more “livable” for adults or children.
  • Financial Situation: While the ministry does not have rigid income requirements for assistance, the financial situation of the homeowner is considered. If the homeowner is struggling financially, then help may be offered based on assistance from a financial ministry.

The Wrong Way, and the Right Way to Serve

Knight in shining armor

from freeimages.com / Kamila Turton

Are you a knumbskull like me? A while back, I had the chance to help serve a hurting family in my church by hanging out with one of the kids. And, on top of that, it was to help my wife out out, who was working with the mom. So Gallahad came riding in with a heart as big as Montana to save the day, right? Ummm, not so much.

See, I am not a “kid person”, and I didn’t want to have to deal with the potential aggravation after work. I did go, but I initially went into it kicking and screaming when my wife called asking for help. Nice, huh?

Well, God got my heart tuned the right direction, eventually, and I apologized to my wife on the ride over. The night went alright and some important work got done. But what a great (negative) lesson in our attitude in service. Too often, I don’t head into it with a heart of joy and grace. Unlike a terrific biblical model for responding to a need in the church, the Macedonians.

Here is the famous passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 8:1 – 5 (NIV presented here).

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.


Wow, talk about the heart of a servant and love for fellow believers! Even as they were undergoing affliction, they were, as my pastor described it, “giddy” with the privilege to support and help the church. How cool is that? And what a humbling reminder of the need to serve with the right attitude. Especially those in the church. As Jesus said in John's gospel (13:34-35) - "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (NIV)."

May I, and we all, grow to be better Macedonians, first giving ourselves over to the Lord in service as we love our brothers, sisters and others.

Jim

Categories: Devotionals, Lessons Learned, Service Tags:

I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part Two

In the first blog in this series we looked at some scriptural bases for mercy and generosity. Today we'll look at some practical applications.

So what does open-handedness mean look like? Its certainly a call to radical generosity. Does it mean dumping an emergency fund and selling my house to put it all into the offering plate or hand it out to the poor, trusting that someone else will provide for my kids? Or could it mean that I adopt an attitude that says, “Why wouldn’t I help this person if I can?”. I have tried to stop when I come face-to-face with an opportunity and in my heart ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do here?”. When I throw up little “arrow prayers” and just be quiet for a moment, it amazes me how often I’m sure of what to do next. And it isn’t always to help, because that is not always going to be ultimately beneficial to the recipient. It requires discernment. Just don’t be, as Dr. John Perkins tells it, like the rich man who got tired of running into Lazarus all of the time (blocking his driveway?), so he moved to the suburbs to avoid the problem.

One way to pass along the love of Jesus is to serve someone who needs you and can give nothing back in return.  Give a gift of one of the most precious assets God gives us - time. If you’re a tool guy (or gal) and serve someone by fixing their house, you feel the smile of God. So be intentional. Find someone who needs you, and take others along with you.

When you initiate a project like that, what you’ve just done, whether you realize it or not, is start a ministry. Specifically, a rudimentary Home Repairs Team. Did you know that starting a ministry could be that simple? Maybe God is calling you to lead a team when you’d rather strap on your tool belt. Your greater service may be to sacrifice the satisfaction of doing the actual work and organize and multiply your ministry to help even more people.

That is what Home Repairs Ministries is all about - being intentional about using what God gave you.

Read Part 1

I Have Two Coats, My Neighbor Has None… Now What? Part One

Scripture often talks in specifics that seem to be examples of larger principles. For instance the principle of the Sabbath Year (Deuteronomy 15, Leviticus 25) is a picture of the open-handedness we ought to have toward the household of faith. The surrounding passages speak to addressing basic needs of the foreigner among us. These passages are a strong call to compassion and often end with: “I am the LORD your God.” The way I understand that is, “I have shown you mercy, now you go show it to others.”

Helping Hand

from freeimages.com, Michael Illuchine

So, how far should we go with merciful acts? How about a couple examples (among dozens) of New Testament passages that shed some light on the subject. John the Baptist told people in Luke 3:11 that if they had two shirts to give one to the neighbor who had none. I’ll bet having two shirts was extravagant in that day. I don’t think John would walk into the 21st Century and tell us that we should only have one shirt and it was to be the one we were wearing. That’s not to say that our giving should not cause us some loss, as it isn’t a sacrifice of thanks if it has no value to you. If we have abundance and encounter need, we are to be open-handed. Don’t give the worn out running shoes that stink up the closet, but the good pair that you can do without.

The Apostle John in 1 John 3 opens the door a little further when he says in verse 17 that if I have worldly goods and my brother has needs, yet I close my heart toward him, I should question whether God’s love abides in me. 1 John is full of “evidence passages” - 3:14 – We know that we have passed out of death into life because of our love for believers. I have always been captivated by the Gospel correspondence between John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 - here saying that He (Jesus) laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our very lives for other believers. That is passing along the love of Christ as shown to me.

Read Part Two

Five Ways to Avoid The Home Repairs Ministry Blooper Reel... Or Worse!

Our home repairs ministry team has learned some valuable lessons in our service and also received some great advice from other churches. The old truism has proven accurate – experience really is a great teacher. We’ve (with the help of some churches) taken some of that experience and synthesized it into a list of ministry do’s and don’ts. If you are just starting a home repairs ministry (especially), or even if your church has been at it for a while, we hope that these will help you avoid unnecessary pain!

First, a brief bit of background. Our home repairs ministry launched, in 2002, as a part of Perimeter Church’s Community Outreach ministry. Our mission - to address internal church and local community home repair needs. In our 9 years of existence, we have helped hundreds of people through our many projects.

And we’ve had some miscues. For one project we had a high school group commit to bring a dozen or so students on a Saturday morning. We were renovating a house in the inner city of Atlanta. The Project Leader spent hours on Friday afternoon getting tools and materials loaded and ready and headed out very early on Saturday to meet them. About ten minutes after start time the group had still not shown. They never did show. We learned a powerful lesson that day. NEVER fail to contact the people or group close to the project date and make sure to get a projection on numbers. If you’ve never had that problem before, count your blessings and start calling your volunteers shortly before the project, whatever service or mercy ministry you are involved in. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Looking back, it was in some ways a funny story. But there can be profound spiritual repercussions to a bad service experience. Remember, we are ambassadors for Jesus Christ when we go to serve a client. If the client is not a believer, our outreach could actually have the opposite effect and sour their receptivity to the gospel! Despite the best and purest intentions, doing the wrong thing, or not doing the right thing, can also potentially lead to embarrassment, disgruntled volunteers and (shudder) legal issues. By putting safeguards and processes in place you can make your ministry more effective, fruitful and impactful. In addition, your volunteers will enjoy their work and be more likely to stay with the ministry.

So, in the spirit of making your community outreach and home repairs projects more fruitful, we present the following list of 5 key do’s and don’ts. While not an all-encompassing guide, I hope that these will help make your ministry more effective.

Don't1. Don’t assume the homeowner knows what the plan is. Sit down with him/her and review the Scope of Work that your group will be focusing on. Have the homeowner sign the “Scope of Work” agreement.

Having an agreed-upon, thorough Scope of Work with the homeowner helps establish accountability and sets expectations. Because the homeowner knows what to expect you significantly reduce the risk of potential frustration and a bad witness.

Don't2. Don’t underestimate the cost of repairs. This is especially critical as your funding could be coming from an external source, including the homeowner. It is much better to overestimate what you need than underestimate. A home repairs ministry should have contingency plans when a repair has increased costs.

Do3. Do include the homeowner in any decision-making that may arise. This affirms the dignity of the homeowner and that the property is his/hers. Changes to a home can get emotional, so when in doubt, ask.

Do4. Do repairs while the homeowner is present. Again, show respect for the homeowner and protect yourself from unfair accusations by making sure that the homeowner is aware of all work being done.

Do5. Do connect your efforts with other local groups already doing home repair. Amplify your ministry impact and display unity in the body of Christ by teaming with other church ministries on repair jobs. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us “…a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (ESV)

1 Corinthians 10:31 “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” strong>(ESV)

If you'd like access to the full list of Do's and Don'ts, as well as other no-cost information to start or grow a ministry, register for access to our ministry library today.