If I say that mercy ministry is absolutely vital—which I think it is—to a church’s local mission strategy, what arguments would I put forward to justify this claim? At the North American Mission Board, we believe that mercy ministry is a growing movement among God’s people. In this movement, God’s people are actively meeting significant human need while sharing the good news of Jesus. There is no doubt that mercy ministry has become a major emphasis within current evangelicalism. But, what has given rise to this form of ministry in North American Christianity lately? Let me offer five possible reasons that should answer this question and convince you to begin a mercy ministry in your local church.
Mercy Ministry is Biblical
For an overview of the biblical foundations of mercy ministry, see my blog posts on the Old Testament and New Testament teachings. For a more detailed exposition of scriptural teaching, read Chapter 7, written by Sean Cordell, in this wonderful book. Ultimately, scripture contains more than 2,000 passages in which God calls His people to care for the weak and vulnerable of their communities. So, yes, I believe this movement is driven by a rediscovery, over the past few decades, of biblical teaching concerning mercy ministry.
Mercy Ministry Results in Rapid Kingdom Advance
Caring for people’s needs while sharing Christ has been a potent combination that the Lord has blessed in extending his kingdom. Take, for example, the early church. During the first few centuries of Christianity, believers became known as “the reckless ones” because they chose to not flee major Roman cities during the great plagues of that era. They stayed behind and cared for the sick and dying although they knew they would die more than likely. Through that act of selfless service, they gained a hearing for the gospel and Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire. Church history is full of similar examples that show the combination of offering mercy in the midst of severe human suffering while preaching the good news of Christ.
Mercy Ministry Effectively Mobilizes Your Members
We can cite study after study showing that most North American Christians are not engaged in personal evangelism. I am convinced that the underlying problem is not a lack of desire. If the Spirit lives in someone, that believer will desire to share Christ with others. I think we, as ministry leaders, need to give our members natural opportunities to share the gospel. Often, we ask them to share the gospel in a disconnected way from natural ministry opportunities. In mercy ministry, when your members are meeting someone’s immediate needs, they have the opportunity to develop a relationship with someone who has a heightened spiritual sensitivity more than likely. Within that relationship, it is fairly easy to have a gospel conversation. This is why church history is full of examples of God’s people sharing Christ while meeting significant human needs. Also, this is why mercy ministry or ministry evangelism is more natural than a packaged evangelistic outline. Evangelism is a natural part of mercy ministry rather than trying to work through a memorized outline, which often requires an awkward transition with no connection to a current conversation.
Mercy Ministry Works in all Contexts
Whether your church is in a rural, suburban, or urban context, people in your community have significant needs that are overwhelming apart from the gospel. Economic poverty has become an issue in all contexts, including the suburban setting. Offering counseling to couples experiencing broken marriage is an excellent form of mercy ministry in all geographical locations. We could go through the list of primary mercy ministry categories and one thing would be undeniable: neglected and hurting people segments exist in every particular context.
Mercy Ministry Works in all Types of Churches
Your church may be at the point of nearly closing its doors. Many churches, that need revitalization, find that mercy ministry is a path to reengaging a local community and seeing God bring new life into that congregation. Or, your church may be doing quite well in various ways. Mercy ministry offers such churches an enhanced opportunity to engage in their local communities. Churches that are in the infant stages of church planting can gain tremendous relational capital quickly through caring for its communities’ needs while sharing the gospel. Thus, all churches are wise to give mercy ministry a strategic place in their local mission engagement strategy. Why mercy ministry? Because of these five reasons—as well as many more reasons I could mention—churches should pursue mercy ministry opportunities immediately and consistently. Now, the question becomes how to start an effective mercy ministry, a topic I will address in the next blog entry.
Published April 6, 2015