As a pastor, I often interact with those looking to the church to provide them with assistance. Which means I have often found myself having to make a decision on how the church should respond to their need. I am sure you have also faced similar situations. Maybe not from a pastoral perspective. But I know we all have come across someone on the street or have had a friend or family member ask us for help or money.
How should you personally and how should the church corporately respond to those in need? In other words, what is required in order to have an effective mercy ministry?
What is a Mercy Ministry?
I see mercy ministry as a personal or church ministry that seeks to care for the physical needs of others. Whether that be those in our own church or those outside the church.
Providing assistance to those outside the church means that a mercy ministry becomes a vehicle we can use to reach the community for Christ. It is a way for us to not only share Christ through word but also deed. As we care for the needy and poor in the community, we are sharing Christ’s love, mercy, and grace with them. The same love, mercy, and grace that has been shown to us. So mercy ministry, while it’s primary focus is the physical needs of others, also has a spiritual component to it.
An Effective Mercy Ministry Requires Compassion
Our God is a compassionate God, who cares about the poor and oppressed. We see His care and concern in both testaments.
In Deuteronomy 15:11 we are given a picture of God’s heart for the poor and hurting when we read,
“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” (Dt 15:11)
His command for generosity was worked out in many different ways. One of which is:
The Gleaning Laws
God told “landowners [in the book of Leviticus that they] couldn’t gather all the grain their land produced. They had to leave some of it for the poor to gather themselves (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22).”
Third Year Tithe
Tithing isn’t just a New Testament thing it was also commanded in ancient Israel. Its purpose was to provide for the Levites and priests, as well as for the upkeep of the Temple. However, every third-year tithes were diverted into a public fund set aside for the care of the poor, the immigrants, the fatherless, and the widows (Deut 14:29).
Jesus, who is God incarnate, also had compassion for the poor and needy.
As we look through the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, we see that:
- Jesus cared for the weak, the harassed, and the helpless (Matt. 9:35-36).
- He moved in with the poor.
- He ate with and associated with the socially ostracized (Matthew 9:13)
- He healed the blind, lame, leper, and deaf (Matthew 11:4-5).
- He raised a poor widows son back to life so she would have someone to support her (Luke 7:11-6)
Just from these limited examples, we can see clearly that God cares about the poor. He wants us, His church, to care about them too having the same compassion as He does. If we don’t, we either won’t do anything for those in need or we will do it for the wrong reasons. So it’s important our Mercy Ministry be motivated by compassion. Doing so helps us:
Avoid Giving for Personal Gain
I’m not sure if you are familiar with NPR. It stands for National Public Radio. As a public radio station, they receive funding from donations of people like you and me. Several times a year they have a fundraising drive. One of their tactics or arguments for why you should give to support the radio station is that it will make you feel good.
While there is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping others, that can’t be our primary motivator. If it is, we are only going to give when we need to feel good about ourselves. Not only is that selfish, but our need to feel good about ourselves and someone else’s need may not always line up, which means there will be times when we overlook those who legitimately need our help. So giving to make ourselves feel good isn’t the best motivator.
Nor is giving so that others in the community will think well of you. Generally, those who are generous are well known in their community. At times, they are even celebrated. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. But if you crave the approval of your peers, you may find yourself giving for that reason. But that too is selfish and shouldn’t be the driving motivation for Christian giving.
Still another way we may give for our own personal gain is to relieve guilt. Maybe you have been blessed financially. When you look at the poor and needy, you feel guilty for what you have, so guilty you feel that you have to do something about it. So you find a charity, a church, or a person in need and give them some money. While giving to them might have been a good thing, it was selfish because you only did it to make yourself feel better.
So instead of being motivated by personal gain, we see that we should be motivated by compassion. It, not selfishness, should be what drives our giving to and care for those in need.
It’s important we give out of compassion because it helps us to:
Avoid an “Us and Them” Mentality
It can be easy to think about those we help as “them”. But this mentality isn’t helpful, nor biblical. Think about it. What if after presenting the gospel to those we are helping, they come to Christ. Then they start coming to our church. If we are operating out of an “Us and Them” mentality, it is going to be difficult to quit thinking of that person as a project or see yourself as equals with them. That’s because even though we have helped them, we have been using them. Using them to make ourselves feel good, accepted, or less guilty.
But on the other hand, if our motivation has always been compassion and not personal gain, accepting them into the church and working alongside them as equals won’t be difficult. It won’t be difficult because we haven’t used them for our own personal gain, nor have we elevated ourselves above them, thinking we are better than them.
So our motivation must be compassion.
While it’s important for us to be compassionate, compassion left unchecked can, at times, do more harm than good, which is why compassion needs to be balanced by responsibility. We will talk about that next time.
Question for Reflection
- Do you have compassion for those who need assistance?
Post developed from my sermon: What’s Required to Have an Effective Mercy Ministry?