I’ve seen the mistake I’m writing about today eat leaders alive. It almost ate me in the first few years as a pastor.
In many vocations, but particularly in ministry, you really want to help everyone. I know I do.
By Carey Nieuwhof
And it seemed intuitive to me as a young leader that everyone should be open to the reach of the Gospel.
With the right approach, we could help everyone. Or so I thought.
Then I met “Betty” (not her real name).
Betty started coming to our church. I was excited because she didn’t have a church background and it had been years since the little church I had started serving in had grown.
I was in ministry maybe six months when Betty arrived.
Soon Betty brought Brian, her husband. They were new grandparents, and their grandkids would sometimes come with them.
Betty and Brian weren’t affluent by any means. They struggled to pay the bills and had some serious and sad personal issues in their lives.
I visited them in their home. I wanted to help.
Our church often gave them money—we didn’t have much, but they had even less, and I tried to make sure they got whatever we could give them.
Betty would sometimes call my home, and soon there was almost a weekly crisis call.
I would drop by their place and try to mediate the difficulties between their family members.
After a while, I began to dread the phone calls from Betty. It felt like there was no end to the trouble, and no matter what I seemed to do or anyone else at the church seemed to do, it never helped them enough.
Still, I didn’t want to give up.
I defended her family when others complained. I stuck up for the grandkids, even though they were a bit unruly and disruptive at times.
So how did this story end?
Four years after they came, Betty and Brian left. Stormed out, actually, in quite a dramatic fashion.
The church hadn’t done enough for them.
It floored me.
I had made more visits to their home than anyone else’s.
We had helped them through more crises than any other family I could think of.
I’m quite sure they received more financial aid than anyone at the time.It broke my heart when they left. But truthfully, it also bothered me.
How could anyone just walk away after we had bent over backward to help them?
But the experience also taught me something.
You can’t help everyone.In fact, here’s what I learned:
There’s a world of difference between someone who says they want help and someone who actually wants help.It’s the same dynamic Jesus encountered in John 5 when he met the man lying by the side of the pool. Jesus asked him, do you want to get well? Apparently, not everyone does.
So how do you know if someone wants to get better? How do you know if they truly desire help?
Here are five qualities I’ve learned to look for, most of which were, sadly, absent in Betty and Brian and in others like them I’ve encountered:
1. Gratitude, not entitlement.
People who want to get well and want or need help are often grateful for it. There is a beautiful lack of entitlement in their attitude.
2. A desire to help others.
People who genuinely want help are also willing to help others. If the assistance is a one way street, the relationship will never be healthy.
3. Commitment to a mission bigger than themselves.
People sometimes think their viewpoint, their need or their situation deserves the attention of everybody. An inability of a person to commit to a mission that is not about them is a sign the person really isn’t interested in help; they are interested in themselves.
Healthy people actually make progress. The assistance is effective in some way. They’ve done the homework, taken the steps and aren’t perpetually stuck in the same place making the same mistakes over and over again. They want to get well.
People who want help are teachable. They have an open spirit. They listen, and they apply helpful insights when they’ve heard them.
If you want more on how to handle people like Betty, Henry Cloud has a fantastic book called Necessary Endings. It’s one of those I wish was around when I was starting out as a leader.