This episode is an exciting one! Our first "Real World Cases" episode will kick off 2023 for The Reformed Deacon. This one focuses on walk-ins and provides numerous practical methods for stewarding unexpected encounters.
Three seasoned deacons: John Voss from Covenant OPC in Orland Park, IL; Chris Sudlow from Bethel OPC in Wheaton, IL and Doug Vos from Oakland Hills Community OPC in Farmington Hills, MI serve as our first panel and CDM administrator David Nakhla facilitates. This is an episode you won't want to miss! And you'll be sure to share it with the deacons at your church, won't you?
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Welcome to The Reformed Deacon. A casual conversation with topics specifically designed to help local reformed deacons. There are nearly 1000 deacons in the OPC alone so let's take this opportunity to learn from and encourage one another we're so glad you could join us. Let's jump into our next episode of The Reformed Deacon.
My name is David Nakhla and today on the Reformed Deacon podcast were going to do something a little bit different today. I’m going to sit down with a few deacons to discuss case studies, or situations, that you as a deacon might find yourself having to address at your local church. I'll describe the situation to our panel deacons, and we'll listen as they discuss their responses to each case. These are fictitious situations, but I think you'll find them very realistic and feasible I hope after listening you'll come away with some suggestions for responding and following up when this or a situation like it should come up at your church.
We have three deacons today on the podcast: Doug Vos coming to us from Oakland Hills Community OPC in Farmington Hills MI; John Voss from covenant OPC in Orland Park IL; and Chris Sudlow from Bethel OPC in Wheaton IL. Gentlemen, thanks for being here.
Nice to see you.
Pleasure, thanks for having us thanks.
Thanks for pulling this meeting together. It's great.
So, let's get started on our first case. We're going to call the man in this scenario Stan. So, Stan appears at the door of the church at the end of the morning service. You've never seen him before, but he asks if he could speak to the pastor or the deacons. You ask how you can help him and he says, “I need some money right away I have a prescription from the doctor and it needs to be filled." Stan becomes more agitated as you try to gather information. Stan does have what appears to be a valid prescription though it looks a little worn. Stan said that he thought of coming to the church because he rides the bus past it almost every day. So, Chris when we start with you what concerns come to your mind with this case.
Not surprising I guess; my first reaction would be to get another Deacon involved with me. We always meet in twos for our walk-ins and try to start a conversation and see what level of anxiety or other intensities are going on. You always want to try and deescalate things, find a quiet place we can sit and talk with him that would that be the first thing I'd do. I'd get one of my brothers and have the two of us spend some time with him.
Yeah, good I love the idea of deescalate the situation. John, any do you have any concerns with you as you hear this case?
We would do the same thing I would bring in bring in at least one other Deacon and again going into a private more of a private place where can deal with an individual more comfortably, so that they can be more comfortable and then there's a lot of different questions of course that we would be asking. He says that he came by, he rides his bus past, I would want to know, we would want to know does he have a church home? Family status…to get to know him a little bit better. What would bother me is that in this scenario Stan becomes a little bit more agitated as you're seeking information. That's an issue and it's I think that's a red flag as well when someone becomes evasive. Why are they becoming evasive? But having a several deacons would be very helpful. Thank you.
So Doug, you sequestered the young man with some fellow deacons and you're interacting with what's your guys first steps maybe? So same scenario we probably find a private room one of the empty Sunday school rooms or something like that and sit down and talk I think what John mentioned asking about just some general questions about family or you know where they from how long they've been in the area trying to just see what they see what their answers are to those things because typically if someone is really in poverty or homeless or whatever the situation is we don't we don't know all you know is the guy says he needs some money for a prescription but by asking him a little bit about their background family and current living situation you can you can get a lot of information right away. Hmmm. And particularly family if the guys getting agitated and you're asking him you know what's the family situation a lot of times people are estranged from everyone in their family. I mean we've seen that probably 90% of the time somebody that's asking for money and they're coming into the church not knowing anyone in the church. I don't know maybe 90% it's not an accurate percentage but a lot of them their family won't help them anymore because of this collision that they've had with their family. Maybe I'm reading too much into this case study which is which is a made-up one but I'm I'm thinking back on different conversations we've had with people; real scenarios similar but real scenarios where like talking to them about their family they're starting to get a little agitated the reason they're not getting along with their family is like a whole lot of different things going on in their life and so their family won't give them any more money either because why? You know if you get to that point somebody is going to get really agitated with you but I'd like what Chris said try and deescalate the situation don't probe too deeply. You know if it's the first time you've ever met the person you wanted trying genuinely help them and so our church like I know a number of other you see churches have like a policy that the deacons have already agreed on, right ? So can you give an example of the of such a policy? Maybe that you guys have at your turn like a certain amount of money that you can give with no questions asked?
Yeah OK but maybe you're not going to give cash so like if somebody needs gas maybe we'll run down to the gas station get them and put gas in their car or we'll give them a gas card. In this case using a similar thing we don't have a policy specifically about the prescription you might say well it it's at the end of the morning service you might say well let's go down to the pharmacy together and see what's going on.
Yeah good we would do the same I would do the same.
Yeah so just like you'd say let's OK you know I know your car is on ink let's go down to the gas station and fill you up if it's the first time right because you're trying to get to know them and you don't want to say on this guy's just a total rip off you want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You wanna say hey let's let's try and help them let's try and get to know him let's try and build a relationship. So you know winning $25 worth of gas in somebody's car is not a big deal these days. I mean you know it takes like 80 bucks to fill up with some cars lately, right? So, right but in this case he wants money for a prescription. So I would use the similar principle of saying hey let's go down to the pharmacy together. Yeah I don't know what I would do there if it's a legit prescription but you're gonna find out whether it's a legit prescription or not pretty quickly.
And at that point if it is a legitimate prescription then that means the doctor has seen the guy and he actually does have whatever that physical ailment it is. Yes but again like you said we would go down with him because we never give cash, it was either certificates or like you said cash card or we would take money out of our own out of your own pocket and you would spend money. Right. But you wouldn't actually give that individual the money itself. One time we had someone that supposedly needed clothes—had a job starting on Monday needed some uniforms, nurse uniforms. We cut the tags off close hmm and she was very upset about that . Oh she was planning on returning them or something? That's one of the suspicion not necessarily what's planning but we cut those tags off so that she couldn't make the return.
Because a lot of people yeah some of us older deacons are kind of jaded and skeptical because we've seen scam artists come through and they're telling you lies to get money for some other reason but even then you know you want to help them out you want to buy them a meal you want to get to know them you know. And because even if they're telling you lies. I mean look at look at Jesus talking to the woman at the well right? He's basically continuing to ask questions and saying, of course He’s omniscient so we don't know we got to pray for wisdom ask the Holy Spirit to give us words to say. But basically it doesn't matter that they're telling you lies right we're all sinners and people are free to tell you the truth up front but you just keep talking to them trying to build the relationship and they may say you know what I like talking to you, you know? I like your approach because you basically want to try and help them even if they are telling you lies in a way I mean at least in some small way to get try and build that relationship and see whether they're going to come back to church talk to you.
What do you think of that Chris? Yeah I think that's where the rubber meets the road we have a a policy set up for our deacons and we uh we do a couple of things but in terms of you get a request for money I like to rather quickly let them know that we're not able to give cash. We don't work as individuals we're set up as a board and we have policies but that we do want to help you so we authorize walk-ins for two deacons to provide up to $50 in food card and $50 in gasoline without having to take it back to the rest of the deacons for a formal vote and that's our policy and I think that works pretty well. But yeah you know at the same time I'm telling him explaining to him that it's not just a simple thing that we can hand out cash and why, I also say but we can help you and we want to help you and you know we have you know we can do some food or gas or you know those kinds of things or like Doug and John said go down to the pharmacy with them. I would be a little careful with that because you know you can get into a big prescription etcetera but I think the sooner you give them a parameter of what you are authorized to do and what you have permission to do it sets the stage for you know a beginning understanding and at that point sometimes they'll just turn tail and walk out as fast as they came in. And even if you say well I can do some things for you and they say no and you know. That's it they you said that's kind of a dividing line and I think it's been helpful to set that early in the process.
How do you guys battle the tendency to become jaded when your life too and you know there's an effort to defraud you guys have given wonderful answers of a desire to help how do you battle as the years go on to become jaded? I don't know if it's becoming jaded maybe it's more you become more aware of the possibility or the probability. To avoid becoming jaded I don't want to make it sound like it's overly simple, but the reality is what is the Deacon supposed to be doing he's offering that cool cup of water he's offering he's trying to demonstrate the love of Christ and what Christ has done for the sinner. So while someone maybe will say there's they're scamming us the reality is Christ loved us before we quit scamming him, right? So once you become aware of that you think it makes it maybe a little bit easier. So, it's not that you're not becoming jaded or a little bit easier to be somewhat forgiving at least in the front end of the relationship. If it's the first time I've seen somebody or we've seen somebody you always tried it if our opinion in my opinion has always been to err on the side of mercy it's not necessarily erring—it's acting on the side of mercy, being aware that maybe they're going to try to scam you. And so, you know that there has to be a limitation. Chris said, you know, set the $50 limit--and that is incredibly helpful and if you put that out there right up front and say well yeah, we could help we we're able to assist. We're not going to give you the cash but we're going to go with you but we do have a limit. Now if you want to sit down and meet with the elders and some more people because we do have that possibility but it's going to take a whole lot more of us and we're going to get more deeply involved with you in your life. And then that's usually when, if they if it's a scam they can't hit their gas petal hard enough—to get out of it because they don't want to be involved with that. But there are times that people are more than willing to. They just seek assistance and involvement.
Would you say to that you should avoid taking it personally? Always. You know they're trying they're trying to steal it from the Lord and I'm a steward of that. You’re a steward of the funds of God's people the funds that God gave his people and they gave it to you. So, they're not trying to steal from me they're trying to steal from the Lord, yeah so don't take it personally you know.
I was going to say coming back to Jesus talking to the woman at the well we found always asking questions about the relationship with their family cuts to the chase pretty quickly. Like Jesus in John chapter 4 verse 16 he says to the woman at the well go call your husband and then come back. And that's when it's revealed she says I have no husband. That Jesus says you're right to say you have no husband the fact is you've had five husbands. But you don't know what people are going to say when you say well you don't are you from this area do you have any family, you know? Could your family help you with the prescription or why can't your family help you with this prescription? What's going on? Which is a legitimate question right but you also want to understand like why can't they get money for their prescription?
Just to be transparent, I have felt at times jaded by walk-ins. Jaded by not only going to the pharmacist but getting him a room in a hotel while they're driving back to the upper New York State and various situations like that. So I think to be honest about it that that is an issue because you don't see very many walk-ins return and you see fewer than that ever, you know, come and be part of the body in any kind of attending or meaningful way. But having said that, I don't know if just because I'm getting older now that I enjoy it when I'm assigned to the walk-ins for a Sunday and we get a walk in. Because my perspective has really kind of turned around on that. Because it's an opportunity to ask them about their faith and talk about our faith and why we're here and to pray with them and share the gospel with them and to spend time in prayer. And for me that's kind of turned the whole situation around from feeling like somebody's just coming to get something for free and gonna, just you, know leave and never return. And why are we spending this money and why are we spending the Lord's money on these kinds of situations, to you know this is a genuine opportunity to pray with people and share the gospel with them. And to be honest, I don't have a lot of other opportunities in my life; I've had several, but I don't have a lot of opportunities in my life to really sit down and share the gospel with someone and pray with them. So that's been very freeing for me. And I think the flip side of that is that we're providing a gift. We're as Alex Pacco said, we are the hands of Christ and we are doing the work that we've been commanded to do. What they do with the gift downstream is not our responsibility or something that we need to hold in our hearts and take us sideways. We are free of that.
Good thank you. Wouldn't you agree that a wonderful way to overcome being jaded is when you actually do have a situation where you ask the hard questions, and it turns out that this is a pretty legitimate need and it's real and you're convinced that it's real and you minister to it in a real way. And that's to me the best antidote to the jaded.
And so people that are willing to come and sit and eat with you and learn and watch videos and talk about finances and talk about their financial struggles and their trying to get on their feet financially, trying to hold down a job and they and they come to church every Sunday and those are the people you want to help. You just want to love on them, you know, you just want to keep helping them. And so those are the kind of stories you can tell to the guy who's a walking in, like man we're willing to do all kinds of things for you. We're going to help you know get a better apartment we're gonna help you get a better car whatever you need. But, we don't just give away money to somebody that walks in off the street you know. We don't give like a car repair you don't, you know, put $1200 into someone's car repair because we don't even know like you walked in you don't even show me your cars not running or you know you just making up a story it seems. Like you know so that's where you got to convince them that if we get to know you and you're not afraid to get to know us a little better, we can help you a lot more. Do you want help like that?
Can you talk a little bit about any kind of reporting that you do of your of your visit? If you guys have any kind of written record of the visit and what type of information would you collect?
You would come in we would ask for ID, and we would make a photocopy of that ID. Where you from? Where you came from? Who you staying with? Where are you staying? Again, like I'm trying to get background on the family. The obligation of the family and helping the individual is premier. We always felt it was first to go to family, secondly you go to the church, you go to the government last and the food kitchen or something else last. But first is family, second is church. If you haven't got a church, well what about, why don't you have a church and why don't you have family involvement? I heard it from both of you that if they're not getting help from family there is something much, much deeper going on almost every time. Thank you.
We keep a very low technology three-ring binder of our visitors, and we copy their ID, and fill out their info. And we also share with them that for people that walk in unannounced the gifts that we've been authorized to give—are these gifts once per year so that they know that you know for a one-off request we've put a limitation on that that they can come in once per year. And it's been very helpful, I guess in terms of just setting the expectation stage as well. You know it is pretty easy to whip through that binder over the last year and see and you know sometimes we'll have repeats but it's nice to have that easy backup and just a little bit of accountability on our side to keep things manageable.
If we could talk for a few minutes here guys about next steps. You've brought them to the pharmacy, you're going to help them with the prescription. You want to talk to them about the Lord. Longer term, what are the logical next steps?
Initially, again, you're asking when you first meet him and you talk, do you have a church or are you associated with the church you have a relationship with the Lord and then if the meeting goes continues on, we've always invited the walk in to worship with us. A lot of cases, at least in my experience has been, that usually that person shows up not at the end of the service, before the service. And so, if you want help we'll see you after morning worship. So, they sit in the service. And then through the discussion maybe your again, that first at first initial offer to take care of that whatever that immediate crisis is, but there's always an offer extended to come to the church, give your phone number somehow try to set up some sort of a potential relationship at the very least so that they can you can give them an invitation. There's been times when OK they need a ride home, so you take them home, and on the way home you discuss with them do you have, you know, what's your relationship with the Lord? A lot of people will tell you that they were raised in a church what it meant to them. A lot like what Chris is said, we've only had a couple of people come a few times, but then again maybe part of it is that they're transient and so they're moving on through you're just you know you're just one of the stops that they're going to have for the for the next month or so but always an invitation and always give a testimony.
Let's move to our final case study a woman named Jane comes to the church. You're the only person at the church getting set up for a meeting that people will arrive for in an hour. She tells you her boyfriend is abusing her and is after her right now and she needs help to keep her safe. Her boyfriend is probably only a couple minutes behind her and she needs a place to hide out. What do you do?
That’s a tough one. So, probably you guys have heard of the Billy Graham rule? So typically, I would get another deacon help me, but the scenario you're painting here you're alone at the church and this lady named Jane comes. First of all my wife's name is Jane, I would get her on the phone. I'd say Jane talk to this other lady named Jane and uh talk to her for a while and then I'm going to call one of the other deacons and ask for help. I'm going to make a phone call and say hey, what do I do, my wife Jane is talking to this other lady named Jane. She says she's being abused, and I might get my wife involved. OK, that's how I might handle it because I don't want to be in a situation I have where I'm alone with her in the church for an hour, especially if that other guy shows up. So not that anything should go wrong but that's what I want to protect myself from. So I want to get one of the other deacons or the pastor to help me as quickly as possible. That’s my initial reaction to this scenario.
That's good Doug thanks. I would get another woman involved like you said that would be number one probably two I think I would maybe call the police. Umm unless I got a concealed carry permit. And somewhat facetious but I'm I don't want to be dealing with an irate boyfriend husband or whatever. I think it's excellent to have another woman involved yeah so that you're protected from any possible misconstrues as well as accusations. Yeah, if there was the threat of a threat of physical harm I think I'd call the police.
I think I would too I think I'd put her in the building and stand outside the building. I'd call the police in front of her, put her in the building and tell her I'm going outside the building. You know and call the police in front of her and see if her story changes a little bit at that point. That's a pretty…domestic abuse is one of the most dangerous calls police go on.
It's hard to know from these scenarios but I guess yeah, real-life scenarios too you never know it's like it's like this amazing situation that you've…some cases you've never experienced something quite like that before. So, you just have to think back to other scenarios or other situations and say OK what are my policies, and you know policy being a Deacon would never normally…our deacon policy would be you know to follow the Billy Graham rule. You would never meet with the woman one deacon two deacons would always be meeting and that's almost with anybody you know like some of the other brothers have said.
And for brothers who I would never want to be alone with an individual woman. I mean that's just straight up no go. I go you need help you jump inside I'm going I'm calling the police in front of you to let you know they're coming going inside and yeah I'm going to stand outside.
Because what you don't you don't know from this you know scenario this case study that we're reading here you know is the guy does he know that does this boyfriend that abuses her does he know where she's hiding you know.
Alright so let's let's take it a step further. So the police do come, they get involved. The boyfriend doesn't show up; her story checks out she needs help with your next step.
You should have a list of resources ahead of time…of places where women can go. So most big cities and I think most places have a phone number or some place you could call for abuse of women to go to. In the Detroit area we have Grace Centers of Hope which is another church run ministry that we partnered with occasionally. So yeah it's good to talk through these scenarios and then talk to your brother deacons and find out, do you have a phone number or you know a a resource? Some of the cases are actually more complicated and more difficult than some local churches can handle. Like we don't have that. So you either have to you know send the person home with another church member or get them into a facility that's got like a safe house for women that have been abused, right? And there's places that specialize in that so you can get them there they can stay there for a little while and keep in touch with them right then get some of the ladies… We have a lot of widow ladies in our church that are prayer warriors and ask them to help over everything with prayer support and then see what God does next. It's for real that she's getting beat up by some guy then and the police can't find him it's like OK what do you do now?
Well one of the things too again family and does she have friends and if family is not an option and she doesn't really have any friends nearby then the church becomes her friend you know. Is there there's women Bible studies there's kids involved you know the deacon's wife is not the Deacon or Deacon asked but she can be a really tremendous help; as well and a tremendous resource as well particularly in dealing with woman to woman one-on-one.
I personally believe that's why there's qualifications for the deacon’s wife because it's implied, in my mind it's implied, that she will be involved in the work as she ministered as half of the congregation is women and so there's the significant ministry to women and deacons wives they're wonderful resource in that way.
Doug, how many years have you been a Deacon? Probably over 30 years now. John how many years you been at Deacon? 24. Chris? About 25 give or take. I just honestly can't really remember. That's a lot of years of experience in this room. Sometimes it's good experience and sometimes it's trying and testing. Yeah walk-ins are tough.
Well, thank you John, Chris, Doug it's been fun to interact and see you interact with one another. I'm sure that deacons listening to this will be challenged and encouraged and resonate with the ideas discussed and hopefully be encouraged in that. And to our listeners, thanks for listening today as we discussed these cases we hope you came away with some ideas of how you can serve within your local church. We hope to be able to bring you new case studies from time to time, so stay tuned for more. And let us know if you'd like them by subscribing sharing and giving us feedback from your podcast player. If you have a case you'd like one of our panels to discuss let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by going to opccdm.org and hovering over the podcast in the menu and go to podcast feedback and topic suggestions.
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