Over the last few years, 9Marks has offered occasional warnings about mission creep in the local church. We believe the local church exists to make disciples and to teach them to do everything that the Lord Jesus commanded. Therefore, the local church, its pastors, its public gatherings, and any joint institutional resources belonging to the body should be dedicated to equipping the membership for works of ministry through teaching the truth in love. Acts of mercy are surely essential for God’s people, but for the institutional church, teaching is essential in a way that organized and structured mercy-ministry programs are not. Teaching is the water that gives life to all Christian activity inside and outside of church building doors.
But like every kindergarten teacher knows, sometimes the line is thin between teaching a kid to build a popsicle-stick house and being willing to get glue on your fingers and to build it with her. It just may be that, from time to time, even often, the local institutional church will best fulfill its Matthew-28 and Ephesians-4 mission by getting glue on its fingers. This not only teaches the saints what it means to be a Christian, it also provides a natural vehicle for organizing and facilitating their new-found love to do mercy ministry.
Bottom line: the local church, institutionally speaking, is called to teach. That is its job. Lose that, you lose everything. But that institution is made up of human beings who must go and do. And where institutional resources (staff time, budget monies, etc.) are available for something more than teaching, they might be wisely and wonderfully stewarded in helping church members to pursue the good deeds that Jesus commands them to do.
For these reasons, 9Marks wants to offer constructive help for how local churches might pursue such organized mercy ministry. (Clarification: some Presbyterian traditions use the term “mercy ministry” to refer to a church’s internal diaconal care for the physical needs of its own members. We are using it more broadly here.) Jamie Dunlop gets the ball rolling by offering the best big picture model we can think of. We will not fully endorse any one philosophy and method as “the 9Marks way,” but Dunlop’s model strikes us as very sensible, at least for churches in the wealthy West.
Timothy Keller then takes a step back to provide an even bigger picture: do we really think preaching is primary? Yes. What role does that leave for anything else? Read Keller.
Mike McKinley rightly connects mercy ministry to evangelism, and Kevin DeYoung offers wise counsel on how to discriminate between one need and another. Resources are finite. Where should we spend them?
John Lauber, Jamie Dunlop, and Layla Wilder offer practical advice on more specific matters like how to speak with the down and out. And then David Apple, J. D. Greear, and Justin Holcomb offer three striking examples of how churches have become involved in good work. All three will be the first to tell you that they have not done everything wisely, and not everything may be worth replicating (we learn as we go!). Still, you might find one or two elements to inspire you.
Where Mercy Ministry Fits into the Church
When it comes to mercy ministry in the church, both the programmed and the organic approaches have their limitations. Here is a third way. Read more >
Churches know they are responsible for word ministry. But are they responsible for deed ministry? How do word and deed ministry relate? Read more >
It’s easy (and biblical) to insist that Christians should “do something about the poor.” But how can we sort out whom we should help, and how much? Read more >
Here are five ways mercy ministry serves and supports a church’s gospel proclamation. Read more >
Theological nuance is important, but it should never mask disobedience. Read more >
How can you talk to someone with whom you seem to have nothing in common? By seeing their life and yours through the lens of the Bible’s grand narrative. Read more >
If a mercy ministry in your church grows to the point where it needs some real structure, consider making it an “integrated auxiliary.” Read more >
If you want your church to help poor people, decide how you are going to help, find people to serve, and tell them about Jesus as you do. Read more >
This is the story of one urban church’s efforts to serve its community through both mercy and pointing to the source of mercy. Read more >
Here’s how the Summit Church learned to love their neighbors, and what that did for their witness to their community. Read more >
Should Christians pass off victims of sexual trafficking to non-Christian counselors? Send them to someone else’s church? What? What should pastors know about this world and what can they do? Read more >
Thomas Ascol and Nathan Finn, eds., Ministry by His Grace and For His Glory: Essays in Honor of Thomas J. Nettles Founders Press, 2011. 342 pp. Read more >