Should church leadership work on developing structures for believers to engage in mercy ministry? Or should church leadership allow this to develop naturally and on an individual basis within the church?
This is a real debate. It also seems to me to be a bit of a strange one.
The leadership of a local church should of course want individual believers to engage in acts of loving compassion for those in need. If they don’t want that, then they are not interested in making disciples. It is that simple. If I am content with a self-absorbed church so long as they can say the right things, I am not a biblical pastor, bottom line.
I think that’s pretty obvious, but what about leaders purposefully developing structures that will help motivate, encourage and provide opportunities for the individuals within their church to engage in mercy ministry? Again, I am not sure how this is so complicated. This is part of what leaders do. Leaders think about how to help the members of their church succeed in serving Christ.
We do this in so many other areas of Christian obedience.
We want our people to evangelize. We don’t believe that evangelism is just a program or an event. And yet we also think hard about providing opportunities for training in evangelism and ways in which to make it easier for believers to take steps to obey the command to proclaim the gospel.
We want our people to disciple their children. We are convinced that parents have a unique responsibility in bringing up their own children. But at the same time, when someone suggests having Sunday School or some sort of parenting classes or a holiday club, we usually don’t respond by saying, we should be teaching parents to do this kind of thing on their own.
Why wouldn’t we do this with helping our people love their neighbor? Showing love to those in need is difficult. It requires great wisdom. Just look at the history of foreign aid in Africa and you will see very quickly that it is easy to help in a way that hurts. It seems like an abdication of leadership for church leaders to simply say that they want their church members to basically figure this out on their own.
It is also silly. When we as a church became involved in starting a baby home, did that distract us from our mission? I don’t think so – not if we were on mission in the first place. That baby home is not just a baby home. It is also a discipleship center. We have had incredible opportunities to talk with members of our church about parenting. We have amazing opportunities to talk with unbelievers whom we never would have met apart from the baby home and to share the gospel with them as a result. The starting of the baby home has actually provided an opportunity for inter-church fellowship as we have joined forces with churches from literally all over the world for this ministry.
And really I could go on and on. I am with those who say that the mission of the church is not to start baby homes! It is to glorify God by proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. But it grieves me when people hear those who say that the mission of the church is to make disciples and interpret that as automatically meaning it is necessarily a distraction from that mission when leaders of the church actively and deliberately think about specific ways to help their members engage in showing the love of Christ to a lost and dying world.