In light of this series (where I argue that the church is not called to the task of social ministry to non-believers), I thought it would be helpful to describe what kind of mercy ministries am I involved in, and how I justify these ministries biblically. So below is a brief list of ministries that I regularly participate with, and a short explanation of why I see them as having a biblical foundation.
Despite the reputation those previous posts may have gotten me, I love mercy ministry. I love being able to express love and kindness toward others with the express purpose of introducing them to the Messiah. I do reject the concept that the church has as its goal the lowering of the poverty rate, correcting social ills or eradicating homelessness. The poor we will always have with us, Jesus said. But I embrace the mandate that the church has to take the gospel to the world, and in various circumstances it can be wise to use material means to gain a hearing for the gospel. There is a very real danger that food or assistance becomes associated with attending a Bible study or sermon. So for all of these ministries, there is a massive responsibility on the church elders to make sure that the method of bringing the gospel to others is not creating a culture of dependence. We love others, so we want to challenge them to change—not to maintain their situation. And we all know that there is hope for real change only in the gospel, and the radical repentance that comes with it.
As a side note, Grace Church also oversees dozens of evangelistic outreaches and ministries. Perhaps I will describe some of those in a future post. But here is a brief list of ministries that I personally work with on behalf of Grace Church.
The Children’s Hunger Fund
Grace Church often partners with the Children’s Hunger Fund for ministering to the homeless in Los Angeles, and for responding to disasters around the world. What makes CHF distinct is that they only distribute their resources through local churches whom they have trained in a biblical perspective on mercy ministry and ecclesiology. This is exactly the pattern seen in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3 where there was famine in Israel. In that case, Paul did not send aide there to the Jews or to the Romans, but he directed churches to collect an offering to meet the needs of the “saints” in Jerusalem.
CHF does this by creating a network of churches around the world that are trained and able to receive emergency aid. In Los Angeles, we collect food as a church, and send it to CHF who packages it in boxes. They then combine it with corporate donations and when a natural disaster strikes, such as an earthquake in Haiti or flooding in the Philippines, CHF is able to deliver massive amount of aid through a network of already established churches. The elders of the local churches then use the aid as they see fit—either to meet the needs of those in the church or to be public testimony of the love of the universal church. But it is the local church, which will be there after UN workers leave, who are the ones distributing resources.
Local Food Distribution
Our church often gets walk-ups looking for food or handouts. We have decided that we never give cash to a non-member, and we don’t give food immediately. Rather, for the homeless we have a network of shelters we can direct people to. But for those who simply need food, we make an appointment to come to the person’s house. We come bringing enough food for a week (donated by CHF), and we spend some time with the family. We make an appointment for the following week, and the same pastor comes again. Through this process we develop a relationship with the family, and invite them to church. If the person rejects the gospel, then our aid stops after two or three visits.
We also identify needy families in our neighborhood by working with the police and local schools, and we do the same approach. We make an appointment, bring food to the home, and explain the gospel. In these cases, we are expressly using food and clothes to open up a door for the hearing of the gospel. If the gospel is rejected, then we leave the food and a Bible, along with the contact information for our church, and tell them that if they ever need prayer or counsel to give us a call.
I serve on the board of advisors for a local homeless shelter. We provide a men’s home with biblical counseling for addictions, and a family shelter for women with kids. The shelter connects women with jobs while their children are in school, and we take everyone through Fundamentals of the Faith, discipleship, and Bible lessons. Everyone attends church on Sundays as part of the program and through the connection to the church discipleship happens. If/when a person confesses faith, they are placed under the restrictions of 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where if they refuse to work, they are no longer allowed to eat. This program is transitional, as it is designed to give stability and the gospel to hurting families, with an end date in mind. If they refuse to change, then the shelter becomes unbearable for them, and they leave.
There are a few local hospitals that allow groups from my church to come and minister to non-responsive patients (patients in comas, or who have had an injury/disease that has made them unable to communicate). We pray for them, sing to them, read them Scripture, and simply explain the gospel to them. Doctors have told us it is impossible to tell how much they understand, and that it is possible that they are able to hear and process everything they hear. This is our way of evangelizing and trying to encourage them.
Skid Row Outreaches
In downtown LA is skid row, where much of the area’s homeless population congregates. Groups of our college students go there on weekends, brining food for the purpose of evangelism. We also work with some of the shelters there, taking people through the Fundamentals of the Faith curriculum. The big danger with this kind of ministry is that people feign interest in the gospel long enough to get food, and then return to their normal way of life after eating. By steering people to these on-going FOF courses, we develop relationships with them, give them prolonged exposure to the gospel, and challenge them to make changes in their life.
These are some of the ministries I work with. Behind all of them is the desire to bring the gospel to the lost, and to care for the needs of the church. This is what I see as the biblical mandate, and I want to be a good steward of my resources so that I am using all that is at my disposal to do exactly what God has called me, as a pastor, to do. And these are all ministries I am involved with as and elder at my church. The plan of the New Testament is for Christians to be taught at church, then scatter to do the work of the ministry.
My prayer is that every Christian would be involved in mercy ministry in someway. You don’t need to do an “official” ministry of the church, and please don’t call your pastor and ask “what does our church do for mercy ministry?” Instead, be on the look out for opportunities to share the gospel by demonstrating compassion. The need in the world is compelling, and the cause of the gospel is urgent. Every Christian is a steward of their resources, and will be judged for how they use their time, talents and money. It would be a shame to squander them by building bigger barns for ourselves, and it would be an equal shame to disperse our money on things of no eternal value. We have Christian liberty in how we use our own money and how we spend our time. But if a person has a right understanding of God’s compassion, that person will be passionate for evangelism and will be on the lookout for opportunities to use any resources possible to spread the gospel and meet the needs of the saints.