Mercy.Justice.Descipleship. Part 3b/3

[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Message’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form] Okay, so this entry on our thinking journey is going to include a good deal of quoting.  Quite simply, ministry-focused topics need to pull in thought and scholarship from around the church.  Let’s be thankful the writing is out there as we work in collaboration.

Let me note at the outset that, in my opinion, Randy Nabor’s book Merciful, The Opportunity and Challenge of Discipling the Poor Out of Poverty, is my gold standard book on the topic of Mercy Ministry in the local church.  I say this in spite of the book’s decidedly urban vision.  I must say “in spite of” because the work of Metokos focuses on the 900+ churches in the PCA, and others like them, that have memberships of 100 or less – and they are mostly in small towns.  Some of these small towns are dying communities where the local sustainable economies are eroding as they move from being producing communities to bedroom communities.  As people move into their new bedrooms, we have newcomers, that is, strangers reflecting Don MacNair’s 3Es of educational, economic and ethnic diversity. Transitional communities present Mercy Ministry challenges we can address with Discipleship.  Remember, collaboration is the key – working together at the same time.  Here is Randy’s definition of mercy:

“Mercy is compassion toward those who are in need, resulting in action to alleviate that need through acts of charity leading toward self-sustainment…I like to tell people that mercy as it pertains to the poor consists of two parts: charity (or relief…) and development…Charity (merciful relief) is the response of love to immediate human needs. Development is mercy extended to the poor in ways that empower them to help themselves, not only so they can become independent, but also merciful to others…Therefore, mercy – if it is done well- requires a relationship that builds and fosters accountability.” ( p. xxix)

The book may have an urban vision, but, friends, the preceding quote definitely covers folks in those bedroom communities as well as the concrete jungle.  Read for the principles and put them into your personal context.

At the end of Mathew’s gospel we can read what Jesus said to his disciples on that mountain top,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

As I explained in my preceding entry, parts of the church in recent decades replaced Christ’s first instruction to make disciples with evangelism. The church looked for converts, not disciples. Occasionally a church can fall for the modern solution, that is, find the One Thing – the single point of failure – fix it, and everything will be healthy. The focus on a balance of making disciples and conversion experiences is one of the issues that drew me to Dr. D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion when I was first exposed to EE in 1972 in Dr. Robert Rayburn’s Covenant Seminary pastoral theology/evangelism class.

Here is what Dr. Kennedy had to say about discipleship and the health of a local church,

 “Some churches have entered into evangelism programs without considering their spiritual health. Tragedy can be the result. Leaders need to work constantly on the health of the local congregation so that there can be responsible reproduction and growth in the local church. (p.ix)

Jesus said, ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, because you love one another.’ He said we are one in him, ‘the world will know that God has sent him.’ The loving unity of God’s people, living in a disciplined relationship with each other under the authority and the love of God, becomes a demonstration to the world of the power and the truth of the gospel. Though the precepts of the gospel may be proclaimed to an individual in a few minutes, their reality must be lived out in a lifetime of relationship within the body of Christ. This is properly called body evangelism. The corporate witness to the life-transforming truth of the gospel in the local church becomes the backdrop for individual proclamation. Individual proclamation without the reality will always be somewhat limited. Also, the individual proclamation is to build the local body in spirit and size. Christ is not interested in proclamation for its own sake. He is building his church.” (emphasis added)

Yes, evangelism is part of the discipleship ministry in a local church – and a healthy local church also worships and also has a ministry of mercy. Dr. Kennedy understood the need for a healthy local church that lived out what he called “body evangelism.” (p.xi, x) “The corporate witness to the life-transforming truth of the gospel in the local church becomes the backdrop for individual proclamation.”  Mercy ministries are often the way we witness to the world that we love one another and that God has sent his son.

Mercy, as defined in Randy’s book, requires a relationship.  The relationship must be a life-transforming relationship, not simply a “5-sessions-and-you’re-done” relationship. Sure, expect disappointments and detours in this mercy relationship, but remember the goal of the relationship is to empower the poor to help themselves and then to help others.

So how does this mercy-as-a-stool-leg happen in a local healthy church? Again, we can take a lesson from Dr. Kennedy. Just as he designed a discipleship program for evangelism, the local, healthy church can design a discipleship program for people who will be part of the mercy ministry.  If we study the history of EE, it adapted to change and to the needs of the culture and local churches. Mercy ministries, the same as EE, will need to adapt and change, but never forget that EE’s constant was/is a disciple relationship. So should it be with churches. A local church may need to learn from another church in the community that has an active mercy ministry. The PCA provides resources to help build a solid foundation, available through the denomination’s Mission to North America.

Back to Randy Nabors and Merciful,

“Pastors need to train deacons and other practitioners of mercy in the congregation. As with evangelism, this is better caught than taught…If a pastor doesn’t know how to train a deacon, or isn’t sure of what they should be doing, he should consult with a pastor who does know and whose church has an active and effective diaconate…Eventually, once deacons are trained, the pastor can give the ministry of mercy totally over to the deacons, …the pastor needs to give mercy ministry away to qualified men and women. However, he must have a heart for those in need…”(pp. 214, 215)

As pastors are training their congregations’ leadership,  the instruction in the principles of discipleship for new Christians needs to go beyond the needed confessional, creed content, doctrine, Scripture reading, prayer, public and private worship, and personal holiness. It needs to proceed to Christian community life, loving one another and striving to live a generous life.  Principles of discipleship need to include the words of Paul that he wrote concerning the generous life reflecting the glad and generous hearts of Acts 2:46. Listen to Paul’s last words to the Ephesian elders on his discipleship model of showing how to do mercy ministry in Acts 20,

“I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.  You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

A disciple will remember the words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than receive” and Paul’s words, “we must help the weak.”  Disciples of Jesus Christ in a healthy church will be glad and generous and beyond to reflect their union in Jesus Christ, their faith and repentance.

To flesh out the work of a church in the area of mercy and discipleship, Merciful offers practical chapters on Developing Policy, Analyzing the Need, Creating Structure To Meet Needs, Developing Proper Leadership and Programing For Ministry, to name a few.  Chapter 15, “Showing Mercy Across Ethnic and Class Divides” specifically addresses Don MacNair’s 3Es of educational, economic and ethnic issues in a community and local church. On this point, Randy writes on page 109

“All people come from certain ethnic and social context, and this means they interpret the actions and words of others from that context. What you might mean in all sincerity as a gift and an effort to help may be taken as an attempt to control, demean or manipulate.”       

This remark concerning sensitivity to ethnic and social context reminds me of all the training I had and then gave to prepare U.S. military members to go overseas.  Removing your sunglasses, for example, is important in some places because a culture insists people be able to see the eyes of each other. Not looking women in the eyes in order to give no offense is also imperative in some places.  In the U.S. we have huggers and people who will do anything NOT to be hugged.  Knowing when to hug and whom to hug requires not only sensitivity but also the realization that it is not about you.  We learn sensitivity to people from other ethnic and social backgrounds by interaction with people who are outside our daily lives and, perhaps, our comfort zone.  Time, trial and error, questioning others who are farther along in a mercy journey – all are necessary as we work to make sure others do not see our gift “as an attempt to control, demean or manipulate.”

In my previous entry, I recounted issues of trauma and our reaction to it. I say again, in discipling people for mercy ministries we need to expose Christian disciples to the dark side of the world we live in today. Consider this sample from an interview with Diane Langberg, Ph.D., printed in byFaith, , about her book, Suffering and the Heart of God.

You explain that, “We blaspheme the name of Christ if we pretend that the evils of genocide, the rape of little children, or the events of a massive earthquake are less than they truly are.” Can you explain?

As Christians we are called to righteousness. You cannot have righteousness without truth. All sin is a lie; a crooked thing. Righteousness declares the truth — not just about good things but also about evil, sin, and suffering. Sometimes the most righteous thing is the facts about evil; facts that need to be named and to which we are called to respond. To pretend that an affair or pornography or hatred of others is a little thing is to deceive ourselves and others. Deception is what the enemy does. To turn away or minimize the rape of a child or ignore genocide is a failure to live in truth. It is, therefore, unrighteous. Also, in reducing evil to little or nothing we fail to see the work of Christ on the cross in truth. There is no evil He has not borne. He carried incest, genocide, war, and trafficking — all of it. Our “little” bit of pornography or “slip” in an affair has wounded Him grievously. When we speak of God’s redemptive work, we are speaking about a sacrifice that covered unspeakable atrocities, such as incest or genocide. We are also speaking of a sacrifice for things we, at our peril, minimize.

If we are His righteous servants, we are to see and speak truth about the wonders of His grace and mercy. We are, as light in this dark world, to “expose the deeds of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). The God who sees calls His righteous servants to also face the horror of sin from His perspective, whether it is on a massive scale or hidden in our hearts. Righteousness measures and declares the truth.”

Mercy Ministry in a healthy local church is both spiritual and physical because, as Dr. Langberg  points out,  “Deception is what the enemy does.” Often we need to face the many myths about the 3Es. This myth-busting can be a by-product of discipleship relationships as local church members get to know their neighbors as real people instead of statistical or second-hand profiles.  Again, as  Dr. Langberg said, “We are, as light in this dark world, to ‘expose the deeds of darkness’ (Ephesians 5:11).”  

Let us understand, readers, that a mercy ministry is not a quick fix.  It will take a multi-generational commitment by a local church to show mercy in the community and the neighborhood where they have been planted to live and called to minister.

At Metokos Ministries, we stress the collaboration between worship, discipleship and mercy ministries. The head of the church, Jesus Christ, calls the church to all three from the start of ministry to be a healthy church, a revitalized church. That is why we need collaborative leadership, the coming topics in the future Metokos blogs. We need a team for ministry because no one does it alone.

Metokos has the means to help churches as they seek to work toward collaboration and health. Contact me for more information. Also, as usual, share this link with others who could benefit.

Merciful by Randy Nabors is published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, SC, in 2015.  The book has a chapter on Additional Resources with lists of 10 ministries and 16 books.

Evangelism Explosion by D. James Kennedy is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, in 1983.

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