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 3:17 “But 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.