Book Offers Insights for Doing Benevolence Well

By Stan Friedman

HICKORY, NC (August 19, 2011) – With apologies to the writer of Ecclesiastes, “Of the making of books and articles about compassion, mercy, and justice, there is no end.” Yet most might as well be titled Ditto because their content varies little from one to another.

Evangelical Covenant Church minister Teena M. Stewart’s new release, Benevolence: Ministering to the Poor and Needy, is an anomaly. Although it begins with the theological and biblical rationale for benevolence ministry, much of the book offers what she calls “the nitty gritty” information on how churches can serve the needs of others.

In a promotional blurb, Leonard Sweet writes, “Ancient rabbis believed the world was based on three pillars: Scripture, worship, and benevolence. Finally a book on that forgotten third pillar that is practical, useful, and invaluable in giving your organization a benevolent bent.”

The book includes interviews with people involved in benevolence ministries across the country as well as “how-to” advice for developing benevolence teams and boards. Stewart also provides sample mission statements, guidelines, policies and procedures, resources, outreach ideas, promotional ideas, an appendix of benevolence resources, and chapter questions to help readers reflect on best practices.

Because the book focuses so much on the details of offering benevolence ministries, it is primarily intended for church leaders. But, it also can be used by individuals or for group studies, Stewart says.

Stewart draws on her experience working at Northgate Christian Fellowship in the Bay area of San Francisco, California, as well as at the Safe Harbor Rescue Mission in Hickory, where she also is co-pastor of Java Journey, a Covenant church plant.

Stewart had finished the book several years ago while at Northgate, but publication was delayed. In the meantime, she and her husband, Jeff, moved to Hickory to start Java Journey. That was when she also started working at the rescue mission.

That experience has given her deeper insight into the needs of people needing assistance, who they are, as well as how to help them. What she has learned was incorporated into the book.

People want to help with benevolence ministries, but they frequently don’t know how or they don’t ask whether their actions will truly help those in need, says Stewart. As a result, the ministry may do little to lift a person above their circumstances and may even continue an unhealthy cycle.

For example, she says, “The biggest mistake churches make is when someone comes in and has a financial need and then just gives them the money. A lot of times the solution isn’t to just give money.”

Instead, churches should establish a system of tracking people who come to them for assistance and asking those seeking help how they wound up in their situation. The process is nonjudgmental but necessary if the church is to help people try to improve their lives as well as use the congregation’s funds wisely, Stewart says.

The book is filled with examples of ways in which churches have started or improved their benevolence ministries. She writes of churches that created an online list through which subscribers can learn of needs and volunteer opportunities. There have been times when someone posted they had an appliance, furniture or clothing to donate, and someone quickly replied that they knew of someone who needed the items.

Click here to purchase the book.

For a previous Covenant News Service story on Java Journey, click here.

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