There is a recurring theme throughout Scripture, and that is the command to care for the poor. The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, said “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” (Prov. 22:9, NIV)
What an interesting turn of phrase! Normally one thinks of a bountiful hand or a bountiful purse or a bountiful basket. But here Solomon says we must first see the poor before we will share with the poor. Too often we disregard the poor, denigrate the poor, or delegate the poor to someone else. Yet one of the marks of Jesus was his constant notice of and compassion for the poor.
Jesus said that the first people he came to preach to was the poor (Lk. 4:16-19) He said one of the marks of those who truly know him is their care for the poor (Mt. 25:34-36) He declared the most generous person he ever saw was a poor widow. (Mark 21:41-44) He instructed his followers to open up their homes and kitchen tables to the poor. (Luke 14:12-14)
One of the characteristics of the early church that caused it to experience explosive growth was its legendary care for the poor, the needy, and the hungry. James, the Lord’s brother, even said the test of true religion is that one “visits orphans and widows in their distress” — that is, their poverty and their physical need. (James 1:27) A church with a heart for God will have the poor on their heart.
There are many ways to do this and I will share a few we practice at our church. First and foremost is our Care Pointe Ministry. We are the largest privately funded food pantry in Gwinnett County. We see over 200 families every month and in the past eight years have given out more than 3 million pounds of food. In addition, we have one of the largest clothes closet of any church in Atlanta and, particularly at Christmas, many families are able to give nice clothes to their children and relatives.
It must be noted that every person who comes to our ministry hears the gospel presented one-on-one, and we see many people come to Christ because of our care for their physical needs. An added benefit is the number of people who line up to serve in this ministry and all are trained to share the gospel in a clear and compelling way.
Now your church may not have the space to do this as ours does, but your church can partner with other Christian outlets providing volunteers, financial support, and physical donations to make an impact in the lives of those who are struggling with just obtaining the necessities of life.
One ministry practically any church can get involved in is with the homeless. We have a ministry called “Feet on the Street,” where once a month our church goes to a park in Atlanta and distribute lunches, Bibles, socks, and hygiene kits to people who live on the street. We share the gospel and have seen numbers come to Christ.
We also have a ministry to prisons. I have been approved to go to Phillips State Prison to preach to the male population once a month on Sunday nights, and several of our people have now been certified to go to the Gwinnett County Jail and lead Bible studies and worship services for both male and female inmates.
Every Christmas, we have a huge “CP Serves” day where we serve a variety of needy people. We participate in Operation Christmas Child and send people with construction and manual skills to shut-ins and senior adults who need routine maintenance done but cannot afford it.
We get a list of incarcerated inmates and give their children Christmas presents. When school starts each year, we provide backpacks to needy children, packed with school supplies and materials they need in class.
We provide support groups for those who are battling drug and alcohol addiction, are in divorce recovery, and are struggling with pornography. We recently started a ministry with a halfway house where people recently released from prison or still in the clutches of various addictions are being discipled through our church.
Finally, we have a large benevolence ministry that is used for everything from paying rent, medical bills, and temporary housing for those teetering on the brink of utter destitution — always making sure the gospel is being presented as the motive behind it all.
The bottom line is, as Jesus said, the poor we will have with us always. In addition, you could add the hurting, the helpless, and the hopeless. No matter where you are, there is no shortage of hurting people, and they need a church that has a passion for compassion.
Published May 28, 2018