We are currently accepting applications for the next cohort of Leaders Lab, which will begin on October 23. Over the next few weeks, while we are still selling at early bird pricing, we will be sharing the experiences of Leaders Lab participants from earlier cohorts. I have been inspired by these stories, and the amazing lessons that these leaders are implementing in their work to address material poverty.
This week we are continuing our series on Leaders Lab participants. We hope you enjoy this interview with a church-based non-profit leader who joined Leaders Lab to get support as he led an established church charity through the change process. If you missed the first in this series, you can find them here and here.
What was happening in your professional life that piqued your interest in Leaders Lab?
I was retired and started volunteering more with my church. My church was heavily involved in unhealthy, one-way giving and was struggling to move away from it. I was a voice leading the church to consider a different way. The congregation was pushing back because they didn’t understand relationality, mutuality, or true participation, or what healthy charity could look like for our church.
I had been doing my part to educate the congregation, and although leadership was on board to do things differently, change was still very hard and very slow.
What did one-way giving look like at your church?
Our church was heavily involved in garage giveaways, where congregants would clean out their garages and give away items to people in need. We had Christmas giveaways for toys and food. We wrote checks to make rent and utility payments for anyone who asked. But at the end of the day, we weren’t building relationships with people. We weren’t actually involved in the lives of the people we were serving.
We saw ourselves as different and apart, and so we had no proximity to the people we were giving to, that’s what made it so unhealthy.
What did you learn in Leaders Lab?
My background is in the corporate world, where change happens very fast. Now I have to settle in and be prepared for the starts and stops that come with church-based change management. The difference between relational charity and transactional charity is vast, and changing from one to the other takes time. I have learned to be patient and I’ve gotten used to repeating myself.
When you are asking people to change their mindset, and their belief systems about charity and philanthropy, you have to give them time to adjust.
Leaders Lab gave me vocabulary. Now I can articulate a path forward for myself and my church, as well as the people we serve. I didn’t have that before. While everyone might not agree with me, they can understand my argument.
I liked that Leaders Lab is online, I enjoyed the structure of the course, the reading materials, and the videos.
What is the church doing now, since you’ve been in Leaders Lab?
I am still the volunteer lead for our benevolence ministry for our English speaking congregation, and I’m starting to lead the benevolence ministry for our Spanish speaking congregation. Those ministries look and feel differently now.
Our church is no longer doing one-way giving events. The church is allowing me to teach other volunteers how to work in a more relational way. Volunteers are learning that it is ok to say no to requests for handouts, and to help those in need sustainably, using a more long-term response. I feel supported in my role, even when I have denied requests from people asking for their rent to be paid.
I also lead a Faith and Finance class where I am working with people experiencing material poverty, I’ve learned a lot about being non-judgemental, to be humble, and again, patience.
Would you recommend Leaders Lab to others?
I would highly recommend Leaders Lab. I first attended Open House years ago, and my eyes were opened to this work. Leaders Lab was the necessary next step to make everything crystal clear. I have been able to take what I’ve learned and experienced in the lab, share it with my church, and teach others how to be more relational with those experiencing poverty.