Serving with Dignity focuses on what people have rather than on simply what they lack. It’s rooted in doing things with people rather than for them. It is not dismissive of needs, quite the contrary, it meets those needs in a deeper way because needs are seen in a broader picture, a picture that includes a person’s hopes and dreams, skills, interests, and resources. In other words, Serving with Dignity is an asset-based approach to helping people.
Watch the video below as Maralee provides an example of a project that used the asset-based approach.
Serving with Dignity is a very different paradigm of service. Some feel like it’s wrong to ask someone who is struggling to help out. But it is simply an invitation. We’re not obligating them to work but we are making it clear that their help is welcome. This also lessens the pressure on volunteers since they too are just people with both needs and assets. Acknowledging everyone’s full humanity mitigates burnout and codependency and allows room for more dignified interdependent relationships to form.
Thank God, asset-based ministry is now more common than it was when Serving with Dignity was first piloted in 2008. The approach allows God to be the ultimate hero of the story. There is no more fertile ground for spiritual growth than being confronted with a problem that we can’t solve on our own and that no one can solve for us – we turn to God and he walks with us through the storm. He places people in our lives to help us, not solve problems for us. This strengthens our faith while building relationships.
The asset-based approach is also biblical. We see it in the story of Elisha with the widow. She turned to the prophet in her time of need after her husband died and she struggled to take care of her two sons.
The prophet asks her, "Well, what do you have?" At first, she said, "Nothing." On further reflection she says, "Well, I do have this jar of oil." So the prophet responds, "Go and ask your neighbors to add to what you already have." She does, and she gets so much more oil that she has extra and sells it to pay off her debts and take care of her family. God provided the increase. Her neighbors helped, the prophet helped, she took the initiative. But God produced the miracle. He always does miracles with what is there.
Before rushing in and trying to fix everything for someone who is in need, take the time to ask some good questions and get to know the person a little bit. They may just need someone to talk to and they may realize that they have some options or some resources they weren't even thinking about while they are sharing their story.