A Grass-Roots Approach is Best
Churches becoming aware of Christ's mandate to reach out to the needy and helpless often say, “Caring for the poor takes more money than we have!”
The ministry of mercy certainly can be carried out on a grand, costly scale. Yet churches can also carry out significant ministries of mercy without a cent from the church budget. For example, in one PCA church a group of five people visited inmates weekly, wrote them at a local prison, brought them monthly to their church's worship and helped released prisoners find housing and jobs. Another PCA church began a highly successful adult literacy program, helping scores of functionally illiterate and poor adults to read.
In another church a group of lay persons advertised a job-seekers' club; now they help unemployed persons find part-time jobs. In the first year of the program 130 persons found part-time work, and 15-20 received Christ!
Such programs can work without any budgeted funds. Why? Because the key to mercy ministry is motivated by volunteers. Many church leaders try to impose ministries on the congregation from the top. They announce, “We are going to reach our neighborhood. Come to the meeting tonight!” This seldom works. Mercy ministries develop best from the grass-roots level in response to these five invitational questions:
- “What specific human hurt do you long to help with?” Ask people if God has put certain kinds of hurting people on their hearts, such as unwed mothers, the elderly, families of retarded children and the blind.
- “What strengths or resources do you have which could meet this need?” Help people evaluate whether or not they have the maturity and strength for such a ministry.
- “Are there at least two or three others in the congregation who share your burden?” A member with vision and resources (perhaps a key contact) should say in public, “Those who would like to pray and study with me about how to reach out to the local home for retarded women are invited to my house after the service. Won't you join me?”
- “Is there presently an opportunity in our community for such a ministry?” Be sure significant needs exist which are not being met by any other sound church.
- “What are you willing to invest in this ministry?” Do the people really know what the ministry will require?
The results of these questions will be mission groups that reach out in word and deed. One responsibility of church leaders is to create a climate in which members are constantly encouraged to go into the world to serve in Christ's name.
Where are your church's resources for mercy ministry? Stop looking in the budget; prepared hearts are what you need.