It seems like as his followers we should be helping people. He kind of made that explicit in his teaching: love your neighbor (Matt 22:39), give to anyone who asks (Luke 6:30), heal the sick (Luke 10:9). He expects us, his body on the earth, to do what he did.
Recently my church took part in a day of service in our community. I learned that we do this every year at about the same time. People in the lower income neighborhoods we serve have come to expect us. They usually have some ideas of projects that need to have done when we come around. One landlord told his tenets he would not do needed repairs, because he knew the church people would be around soon and they could do it.
I was discussing this with some friends afterward. There seemed to be a consensus that we were not making a difference in the community. The same people were in the same pitiful place as they were last year. Some people were growing weary of returning year after year and not seeing any progress in the community. It brought a smile to faces for one day, but if anything, the community was in worse shape than it was the year before.
Why on earth would we expect a community to change form a one-day-a-year service project? I think if you had asked us what we expected to happen before the first time anyone went into that neighborhood, we would have said something like, "We expect to serve God by serving others." or, "We expect to live out the love of Jesus." If that is all we really went out to do, then we succeeded. We showed people the love of Jesus in a practical way. We served them like Jesus said to when he washed his disciples feet. We succeeded!
Somewhere along the way we developed new expectations. We expected to not only serve people, but to help people. We expected to heal people, to feed people, to make their lives better. And we failed.
My group of friends has recently decided to adopt a neighborhood where a couple of us live so we can spend the time to really help people. We are going to be spending time there, getting to know people, and doing projects with the people of the neighborhood. We realize helping and serving are not the same thing. Serving is a single act. Helping is a process. It is a process that is often messy, and difficult to measure. Helping is a relationship that takes time to build. To really help, you need to find out not only what a person or community is lacking, but what a person or community has to offer. Then you have to empower them to use what God has given them to change their situation.
I think a lot of Jesus' followers have wrapped their minds around serving We can go in, do something, leave, and feel pretty good about ourselves at the end of the day. Most of us have not really invested enough to actually help someone, let alone to help a community. I think Jesus wants us to do both.