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January Activate Post: Missions with tongs


I recently saw the movie Same Kind of Different as Me (Paramount Pictures, 2017). It reminded me of being asked to speak at the morning worship service of a downtown church a few years ago. The missions director had asked to meet for an hour or so prior to the worship service to provide input on what they were doing and to get any feedback I might have to offer.

During that session, I asked what outreach to the community gave the church members the most gratification. The missions director immediately named a feeding program to the area’s homeless that they offered every Thursday night at the church. The program had been operating for four years. The entire meal was prepared and served by volunteers from the church.

I asked how many homeless persons had been brought into the life of the church as a result of this outreach. She looked at me quizzically and said, “None.” I probed a little further, asking to what extent servers tried to build relationships with the homeless who visited each week. She said, as far as she knew, none.  Finally, she said that she doubted that any of the volunteers even knew names of those who came to be fed.

This is a classic example of a church doing what I call “missions with tongs,” and it is common among local churches. “Missions with tongs” is a ministry that allows or creates barriers between those who serve and the people being served. It is a ministry devoid of relationship building, and therefore inhibits significant change in the lives of those being served. I don’t think churches intentionally create these barriers, they just seem to happen.

It would be a good exercise for local church mission teams to analyze their programs and discover whether or not barriers to relationship building exist. If they do, they either need to be removed, or volunteers need to reach beyond those barriers to get up close and personal with those whom they are serving. After all, churches should be giving people more than food, clothing, or shelter. Churches should be offering people dignity, love, and Jesus.

If you would like assistance in reviewing all aspects of your church’s outreach, you can contact the church ministry team at TMS Global and they will provide an unbiased analysis.

Stan Self is a training consultant at TMS Global.