Charity is Too Small

Screen shot 2016-08-19 at 10.04.31 AMI am a full-time student pastor, and the majority of what I write reflects that. Like all blogs, the “controversial” subjects get the most readership and shares, but that’s not the focus of my writing. My tag cloud, which depicts the topics I post most about, has Jesus, Christianity, youth ministry, etc. in the largest letters.

But in the smaller letters you’ll see represented something I talk about less frequently, but don’t care about any less.

The subject of nonprofit organizations and generosity and poverty and giving is something that Jesus really started to smack me upside the head with a few years back. It led to some pretty huge changes of behavior in my own personal life, not the least of which was the founding of a nonprofit organization.

Lately, my thoughts on the subject have gone a layer deeper, as I realize that what we do is not simply charity. Regardless of how the word charity should be defined, the word sort of evokes an enabling — a habit of handouts that leaves the receiver still in need after a temporary fix from a giver. It strikes me as transactional.

Most people who donate don’t think much about the recipient, and most people who receive don’t think long about the person who donated. I may be over-analyzing, but charity seems like a bland sort of word. It means just enough to make us feel good, but makes little difference in the long run.

In truth, the best nonprofits aren’t about charity in the modern sense of the word.

I have had the great honor of partnering with a great organization in the Caribbean for years. They use a phrase that I think better captures the goal of most faith-based nonprofits — mutual transformation. It’s a phrase rooted in deeper theology that branches out into more effective practice. It insists that all of us are in need of change. It theorizes that when we are mobilized to serve and give, we are simultaneously transformed with the person whom we serve.

I have seen this theory proven true time and time again. Student groups serving in third world countries result in communities and the students being changed. Couples exercising tremendous generosity to other couples in need result in both couples’ faith being stretched. Even in my own life as our nonprofit has grown and we’ve seen donors experience the thrill of giving we have also experienced the same thrill. We’re not just collecting supporters, we’re making disciples. We are being discipled. Jesus uses our “charity” experience not just to change those to whom we give, but to change us.

The word “charity” is too small a word.

 

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My wife recently got a job at a clinic that serves a demographic not able to easily find quality healthcare. She often sees people with stories that break her heart. She recently asked a patient about her family only to learn she was a refugee from a war torn country and 9 of her 13 siblings had been killed in a genocide. As my wife recounted the story to me, she was overcome by the unfairness of it all, as was I. But behind the story something else was going on. Mutual transformation was happening.

Some may argue that my wife was the minister that day, helping the patient who had been through so much. But I could see that my wife was changed, too. Stories like that aren’t told without causing lasting impact in the lives of those who hear. The patient impacted the provider, and both left the encounter different than when it started. Discipleship happened on some level. My wife joined Jesus in mourning the injustice and evil the patient had experienced.

When givers give and servers serve and ministers minister, we’re silly to think it’s a one-way transaction. The truth is, we’re all transformed as we give of ourselves. Through pain or joy (or sometimes both) God moves us closer to Him.

So I don’t want to ever refer to our nonprofit as a charity. I’m not even sure “nonprofit” describes what I want us to be. My desire is to see us function as an agency of mutual transformation. I want donors and recipients alike to be changed by the relationship we forge with one another. I want God to get the glory, but I want people to reap a benefit. I want the people on both sides of the donation to get closer to Jesus.

If you’re looking to be transformed, get involved with an organization that is about mutual transformation. There are a ton of great organizations out there. Don’t wait. Give. Serve. Take a risk. Get outside your comfort zone. Put yourself out there. You will never be the same.

Believe me, I know.

 

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