By Kristin Schultz
As followers of Jesus, we are called to help meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of others. While serving does not earn anyone a place in heaven, service is a sign of active faith. Jesus told his disciples:
[People will ask], “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:37-40 ESV)
In churches today, there is no shortage of charitable programs. From food pantries to prison ministries, God’s church is actively meeting needs. But is there something missing from our well-intentioned efforts?
A Dignity Deficit
A 2020 survey of companies and employees yielded some startling results:
What a discrepancy! Everyone wants to be treated with dignity, but our efforts often miss the mark.
We all need dignity—a state of respect. Because we have been created and redeemed by God we have value and worth. We have standing—God sees us and knows us. But do we treat those we serve with dignity, or do we unintentionally see them as less-than?
We often take dignity for granted. Most of us live predictable lives, free from harassment and with opportunities for self-improvement. We have the autonomy to make choices about where we live and how we spend our time and money.
The Dignity Difference
The poor can face daily indignity, women can face abuse, children can be bullied for their clothing, and immigrants can be exploited for their unfamiliarity with our culture.
As the church, our outreach should emphasize dignity. Alongside providing for physical needs, we must also see people through Christ’s eyes and show them their value.
A great example of this is the Mission: St. Louis Affordable Christmas program—it dignifies low-income parents by enabling them to buy Christmas gifts for their own children. These gifts are brand-new and are for sale at drastic savings. Items are donated and sell for between one to four dollars. No family spends more than twenty-four dollars and the proceeds are reinvested into community programs.
In 2015, Zion Lutheran Church in Hillsboro, Missouri launched The Beautiful Feet Project. The ministry provides name-brand shoes for local high school students who cannot afford them. The ministry dignifies students with shoes they are proud to wear and helps them avoid ostracization and feelings of inferiority.
Churches may already dignify others without realizing it. Many have volunteer groups making repairs for homeowners. While it may seem small, building a wheelchair ramp or fixing a leaky faucet goes a long way in bolstering a person’s dignity. The same could be said for renters experiencing deferred maintenance by absentee landlords—an upkept property creates a sense of dignity.
The secret to prioritizing the dignity of those you serve is to treat them the way you would want to be treated. You want others to know your name, you want to make your own choices, you want to feel capable of providing, and you want to feel independent.
Ultimately, Christian outreach is a ministry of redemption and restoration. Jesus restored and redeemed us. It is our privilege to live out our faith by restoring those around us.
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