How can you help chronically needy people without them draining all your time, money, and energy?

It was Saturday night, and my sermon, one of the first at my new church, glowed in green on the screen. Deep in thought, I scarcely noticed the telephone's ringing, but Nancy soon called down the stairs, "Meg Sheridan is on the phone."

I groaned. Meg had attended my previous church for several months and was always nice-but always needy.

Don't get me wrong; I love helping people in need. The gift of mercy motivated me to pastor in the inner city for eight years. I would rejoice when from a Sunday offering of $200 (far below budget), I could give $30 to Mary, a woman from the housing project whose cupboards were bare.

Only with the overdependent do I agonize about giving. I am torn between the words of Jesus, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these . . . ," and a suspicion that some needy people don't fit the parable.

How do we truly help the counselee who never seems to improve? Should we support an unemployed member who bypasses a minimum-wage job? How should we minister to the person ...

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