Recently my boss told those of us on his communications team about a meeting he’d had with a potential donor – someone who has the means to give significant funding to support our organization’s human services work in the community.
After glancing at the brochure she’d been handed, the donor slid it back across the table to my boss. “I don’t really need to hear about how you serve,” she said. “I need to hear about how you solve.”
I get it. We like to see “measurable outcomes.” We like statistics and percentages that prove the organization we support is doing what it says it’s doing. We want to know not just how an organization is meeting people’s basic human needs, but how it’s helping to solve the bigger problems that prompted them to seek help in the first place.
We also like success stories: the recovered addict who is now clean and sober and gainfully employed, helping others as a substance abuse counselor; the former gang member who’s getting straight As at the local community college; the homeless couple who are now earning a viable income, have moved into a house of their own and are on the road to financial stability. These are the stories featured in annual reports and donor newsletters, the stories that make the local news.
For the record, I understand the donor’s point, and I absolutely believe non-profit organizations should be held accountable as responsible stewards of the money they are given. That said, in looking at the example Jesus offered his disciples and followers, I wonder if we are missing the bigger picture when our definition of success is based so narrowly on “measurable outcomes.”
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,” Jesus said. “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).
Jesus, it turns out, isn’t much interested in measurable outcomes. His expectations of us are pretty simple: he asks that we meet the needs of those who are suffering with compassion and care. His desire is not so much that we fix those who are “broken” or even that we help them transform themselves into something “better,” but simply that we come alongside those in need, embracing them with love, offering them companionship and community and treating them with the dignity they deserve as our fellow brothers and sisters.
A hot, nutritious meal. A winter jacket and a warm knit hat. A safe place to sleep. A listening ear, a kind word, a prayer, a gentle touch. These simple, most basic acts of service won’t be mentioned on the evening news or in an annual report.
The people on the receiving end of these small kindnesses won’t likely be considered “success stories” – at least in the way our culture defines “success.” Sometimes we might even wonder whether these basic services and small gestures are really enough. And yet, regardless of whether or not it solves problems or produces measureable outcomes, loving and caring for our brothers and sisters in these simple ways is, at least according to Jesus, some of the most important work we can do.