It is not imperative that every church have an official “mercy ministry” program. It is essential, however, that every congregation be involved in mercy ministry. Several years ago, while sitting down with leaders in our church who had a vision for helping hurting people, I laid out some of my thoughts on mercy ministry. I started with a few foundational truths and then outlined several methodological missteps.

Six Theological Foundations for Mercy Ministry

1. The rich are to be generous.  1 Timothy 6:17-18 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”

2. We are not to get rich at the expense of the poor, nor are we to take advantage of the weak.  Amos 8:12 “For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”

3. True religion consist in personal holiness and helping the helpless.  James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

4. Christians have a special obligation to care for the needy brothers and sisters in their midst.  1 John 3:17But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

5. Christians should have a positive impact on their communities.  Matthew 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

6. Christians are compassionate. Luke 10:33-34 “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

How to Get Mercy Ministry Off-Track in Fifteen Easy Steps

1. Participate just to assuage guilty feelings for being rich or white or suburban or whatever.

2. Feel superior to those who aren’t as involved as you are.

3. Pursue too many good ideas at the same time.

4. Love the “poor,” but not poor people.

5. Turn everything back into a discussion about politics.

6. Forget to pray.

7. Make evangelism and discipleship an afterthought (or worse, a never-thought).

8. Read books, complain, talk about stuff and never do anything.

9. Launch into a ministry program or ministry model that isn’t sustainable.

10. Rally the troops with guilt and shame.

11. Idolize the poor.

12. Demonize the poor.

13. Do everything for the people you are trying to help.

14. Believe that every problem can be solved by simple charity.

15. Be blind to your own poverty and need for mercy.

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Comments:


21 thoughts on “Thinking Through Your Church’s Mercy Ministry”

  1. I’m printing out the fifteen steps and hanging them on my study door. Convicting stuff.

  2. Jacob Lee says:

    Thank you for this great exhortation!

  3. MarkO says:

    excellent! Kevin, what answer do you give to those who say the Church should not be involved at all in mercy ministry (even a well balance one as you describe above)?

  4. David Biel says:

    Its funny, i was just about to comment what Rev. Z. Bartels did first! I am going to print this out as well and use it as a visual reminder, especially in prayer. And for discussion points with my pastor.

  5. John Thomson says:

    Now here I say a hearty amen.

  6. Reg Schofield says:

    Well said . I think that I will print this off and share it with some in my Church.

  7. I was amazed to realize that Ezekiel 16:49 says Sodom was punished for failure to care for the poor. In fact, both Jesus and the prophets tacitly and directly suggest that those who know God demonstrate that relationship in part by their concern for our neighbors in need.

  8. David Apple says:

    Thanks for this. I applaud every biblical encouragement for motivating/mobilizing the churches toward ministry of word and deed. As Director of Mercy Ministry at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia since 1988, it grieves me that so few churches minister to those who are poor, broken, and brokenhearted. For links and helps, go to http://www.compassion.tenth.org.

  9. I’ll be linking this to my blog, not going to get you many more readers but thought I like to let you know. Killer ideas.
    Peace,
    Alan

  10. gv720/ JUsher says:

    Can I ask a really stoopid question?
    I haven’t come across the term “Mercy Ministry” before (being Norn Irish). Is this a specifically US Presbyterian ministry (helping the poor through the diaconate is a definition that I’ve come across after a quick google) or is it a broader term for charitable work in Churches?

    gv

  11. Mitchell Hammonds says:

    Now I feel guilty…

  12. Ben says:

    I think a good one to add would be: “Turn the poor person into a personal (or church) project.” It might be implied in some of the other one’s, but it is too easy to do. When we don’t see the progress we desire from the “project” in the time perameters we set, we abandon “it” (should be “them”) because we don’t actually love the person, just the idea of “fixing” them.

    Good list, though, thanks for sharing…

  13. Rhea says:

    Can someone explain #4 to me? I’m not sure what it means…”Love the “poor,” but not poor people.”

  14. Bert Wu says:

    Amos 5:12 for 2nd theological foundations?

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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