“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What is Food?

As I expressed in an earlier post -- the Christian community often has a difficult time, when working with the poor; balancing physical and spiritual needs. This is a difficult balance to maintain if one does not have clear Biblical understanding of the priority.

Many groups start with the best of intentions, but find that many poor and dispossessed have very little interest in hearing the Word, rather they only desire food that is temporal. This is understandable to a degree, but when we allow them to dictate the terms, we will not be doing these folks eternal good, but simply feeding their flesh for another day on this Earth where they will continue to eke out an existence for the here and now.

Instead we must proclaim the Good News FIRST and FOREMOST; this is our mission, as directed by our Lord and Savior. This is difficult, as we in our church know all too well. We are not always successful in our endeavor to share the Gospel with each and every person, but if you are working with a regular group of people, you should be actively sharing the Word with them in a way that is more meaningful that simply slipping them a tract or forcing them to sit through a 5 minute 'sermon' to receive their victuals.

Again, it goes back to investing time in the people. In the case of Messiah, he would spend time helping and healing the people, but He always combined this with teaching. Also, you must determine how many people, as a church, you can feasibly help. Now, if you are simply handing out sandwiches and coffee, then you can do that for a larger audience, but what I believe would be a good model is to find some folks who you can direct your attention to. Once a person has been discipled, often their first impulse is to share the Gospel with others who they can relate to -- i.e. others who are dispossessed. This is a great way to organically build up a ministry for the homeless -- we have had some limited success, but I will state that it is quite time-consuming, and can be draining.

I believe that you cannot simply decide to reach the poor in your community and then go set up a tent with free coffee and sandwiches -- there needs to be some structure around it. Also, handing out pamphlets and/or tracts is one way to reach your area, but I have found that this leads to a lot of wasted effort as most people toss the tracts (and besides that, finding decent tracts is a daunting task at times), so you need a definitive idea as to what you are doing.

We should never start a ministry to the poor with the goal to provide them with Subway sandwiches. As I stated earlier in this post -- the ministry must start out with the idea that we are to proclaim the Good News to these people, and should branch out from that central goal. As Paul did, we should preach Christ and Him crucified to a lost and dying world. Unless one has a solid grasp of Grace, they can get wrapped up in 'fixing' the physical, and neglecting the spiritual. If one truly believes in Hell, and is cognizant that we are all sinners saved by grace, then our impetus WILL be to proclaim the Gospel.

So, what is a good balance -- well, I certainly do not have all of the answers, but let me give you a few of my thoughts:

1. - Before going out and 'doing' something the church should spend time in prayer, asking for wisdom and guidance as they go into the community. This is so basic that I almost did not list it, but without a solid grounding of prayer we will be unprepared.

2. - Ensure that everyone who is involved in this ministry is well-versed in the Gospel, and can provide a clear presentation of it. This is one that is a struggle; far too many people are ill-prepared for a clear presentation of the Gospel.

3. - Identify folks who you can disciple and minister to. Get involved in their lives (wisdom should prevail here -- don't go find the biggest, baddest person just to prove your compassion). Share the Gospel with them, and ask how the church can help them. Be prepared; once people find out that you are trying to do this, you could well be inundated. Stick to your guns and do what you can do, and no more. It is better that a handful are reached, rather than getting swamped with many.

4. - Partner with other churches and para-church organizations.

5. - Get training on this type of ministry, and the do's and don'ts. You should be prepared for many 'out of the box' situations, especially if your church is in a normally comfortable, and affluent area. Work with your local police departments, and (believe it or not) VFW's, and local merchant's to learn of those who are 'truly' needy, and regulars around town.

Proper prayer and preparation will lead to rewarding ministry amongst some of our country's neediest people (both physically and spiritually). It might even change your church! I fear that we are as xenophobic as were the disciples. They did not like Tax Collectors (Matthew), Samaritans (John 4), and a variety of others, yet Jesus Christ reached out to these people. When you actually get to know someone of a different race or culture you may be surprised how much like you they really are!

All need the Grace of God!


Even So... said...

Very good points...#3 is too often overlooked in the name of compassion, but we can swing the pendulum too far in either direction....find out what you can do, offer that, and that is it...you will have so many tell you that you aren't being like Jesus for not doing things they way they think ought to be (or what they want to be) done, but excuse me, we are the one's reaching out, so no way, buster, don't feel false guilt on that deal, and don't swing it too far in the other direction of cynicism either...the fine line between cyncicism and sentimentailty must be a learned thing, but rememeber...you are wanting to do right, and trying to do something about it, keep praying, and rememeber Jesus' parable, when someone says you aren't doing enough..."is you eye evil because I am good" (Matthrww 20:15)...yep, that 'ole denarius story hits home again and again...

Ray said...

I agree -- I have had comments about how we 'ahould be doing more' from others, but our church knows what it can and cannot do effectively.

Taking a sober assessment of the resources God has given you is a big part of starting this type of thing. We help a small number, but are actually able to help them, not simply throw them a bone once in a while. Several are sewn into the day-to-day church life of our church.