counting the cost of serving the under-served.

Over the last few days, I’ve been helping a younger guy who is attempting to really start to “serve the poor” for the first time. Maybe it’s just because of where we’re located or what kind of church we are, but I actually have this experience a lot. People who have been followers of Jesus for years who finally, for the first time, take the disciple’s call to serve the under-served.

But, at some point, they hit a wall.

I hit it myself – it’s not very pleasant, because you expect that when you start helping others in a deep, significant way that you’ll get deep, significant results. And, what seems like almost always, you don’t. The thing about broken people is that, well, they’re broken. Me. You. Everybody. But when you make somebody the object of your assistance, you link yourself to them. And the deeper your relationship, the stronger the rope.

It’s the beautiful thing about working with the under-served, but it’s often also the reason they’re under-served. There are some people who have been raised to be entitled – actually, there’s a lot of them. There are some people that have been raised to hate. There are some people whose environments shaped them to be incredibly narcissistic. Some people steal your stuff to buy drugs. Some people call you 26 times a day and mark all the voicemails “urgent”. Some people listen to your advice for an hour and do exactly the opposite ten minutes later. Some people just don’t want jobs, even if they’re able to get them. Some people don’t take the medication you helped them get. Some people sell the stuff you give them to buy alcohol. Some people rip off government aid programs on purpose.

Serving the least of these can be one of the most frustrating things you’ve experienced. Ever.

Sorry, no but. It is. Most of the people I work with who engage this population of people go through phases, similar to those of grief:

  • Denial/Bargaining
    • Initially, most people believe they’ll achieve great results with the people they work with. They even try to convince themselves through creative methods that things are going better – that there are fixes they just haven’t found yet. When they see hints of how chronic most brokenness is, they pretend they didn’t see it.
  • Anger/Depression
    • This one is hard. A lot of people end up hating the very people they help. And it is REALLY tempting sometime – you start to believe everything is their fault and start to consider how they’ve wasted your time. And it seriously makes you mad. But in reality, we get mad at a person because it’s easier for our mind to manage than getting angry at the generational/environmental systems that created these issues. And all of that is really depressing
  • Acceptance
    • Where you go from here is the real question. Everyone who’s tried hard has been frustrated to the point of abandoning the mission. I always say, if you haven’t contemplated giving up on the under-served, you probably aren’t trying hard enough. Once you pass the first two stages, you have to make a decision – you walk away (actively or passively) or you commit yourself in spite of your anticipated disappointing results.

Bottom line: one thing I’ve learned by not only engaging the under-served but walking other people through their engagement of this demographic is that you WILL fail unless you have a deep understanding of what you yourself have been saved from. The truth is that the distance between you and the most frustrating, entitled person in the world is nothing compared to the difference between you and God. That chasm was covered by Christ, so cover the smaller of the chasms without complaining.

Love them as God loves you – incomprehensibly.