Mercy Ministries & Credibility

          Our church has been gathering gloves, scarves, hats, and socks for the homeless. As I write this blog from Philadelphia with an early arctic blast upon us, I look outside where we have coats hanging on a rail that people can take as they pass by. Some will come into our ministry center where we might have an opportunity to witness. Others won’t come in but might be warmer tonight. Earlier this week a homeless man with drool dripping from his mouth stopped by in freezing temperatures with a springtime jacket and put on two coats in preparation for nighttime temperatures in the teens. By this do we gain credibility or a hearing for the gospel? Now in the eyes of some outside the church, mercy ministries may indeed lend credibility to a church's existence and may at times gain a hearing for the gospel. Yet we should show mercy as we have opportunity to others regardless of whether or not we gain credibility or a hearing for the gospel.

          We have become accustomed to reactions from Christians who question why a church would actually be involved with or concerned about “these people” who obviously are homeless or in poverty due to irresponsibility on their part. According to some, it is okay if individuals want to help others but churches shouldn’t be distracted from just preaching the gospel. The irony in that is that many churches who fail to engage in acts of mercy are preaching the gospel to the same people week after week and have little credibility or visibility (apart from a church building) in their community. We really have no interest in becoming a big church by engaging in mercy ministries as if doing that will bring us success. Yet if God uses those acts of mercy to bring sinners to Himself, we rejoice.

          We’re not trying to solve homelessness or poverty. Neither can we avoid them. Maybe others can. We can’t or can’t anymore. I don’t really care deeply how other churches do ministry in their context nor do I care to tell them how I think they should do it. If homeless ministry is not part of their context, if serving the poor can't happen because the poor are not seen on their streets or in their gated communities, fine. What I don't get is the energy expended criticizing what other churches do in their contexts. I've tried to have a generous attitude toward churches which do ministry differently (even if I haven't always succeeded). But please, for those who don't like anything that smells missional, they should get over it and do ministry as they believe God wants them to do it. It's okay to disagree and to express those disagreements. However, after a while it becomes tiring and repetitive. How many conferences and blogs are needed in order to explain what someone is against? The point has been made. Most are not buying it.

          p.s. The coats hanging outside are gone. I don’t know how God will use that. Maybe it’s enough that people know somebody cares. I don't care about people nearly as much as I should. But God really does care!



4 Responses to “Mercy Ministries & Credibility”

  1. Steve,
    I've had to deal with the same voices in my fundy circles for 20 years.  In my context, it seems as if the fear of a Social Gospel slippery slope and a rigid defense of a more traditional form of dispensationalism are the underlying causes. (by the way, I am still dispensational, so this is not an attempt to make dispensationalism the whipping boy of all that is wrong in evangelicalism as scholars such as Mark Noll as done….Scandel of the Evangelical Mind)  According to some,  If you start using the resources of your church towards helping the homeless and poor, somehow this becomes a distraction to preaching the gospel.  Over the past 20 years I've done urban ministry in such capacities as a homeless shelter manager, an inner-city youth missionary, ran after-school recreation and enrichment programs, and now an executive director of Urban Transformation Ministries, never once has helping the social/economic needs of the poor distracted me from preaching the gospel.  Its never an either/or but a both/and.  
    As for the traditional dispys, it seems as if they are so defensive of already/not yet view of kingdom.  Whenever, I have a conversation with one, they usually end up attacking those who overemphasize the "kingdom now" in regards to the mission of the church.   They point to emergents such as MaClaren, Pagett as examples of evangelicals that have gone down the slippery slope of already/not yet view of the kingdom.  Of course they have set up their little own strawman to beat down.  In the end these reasons only justify their own beliefs and opinions where they shirk the church's responsibility to do mercy type ministries.  Ok now I am done with my soapbox 🙂



    Hi Joel:

    I think you're right on target. Our engagement with the poor, homeless, etc. is always gospel focused. And it is a great ministry opportunity for our people to serve the poor. Some of those serving are poor. So it is also the poor serving the poor. It does create avenues of witness to people to whom otherwise we would have no voice. Last night we had a homeless outreach to feed about 60 people in partnership with Chosen 300 Ministries. What a great time singing Christmas carols, preaching the birth of Christ, and then serving meals to people who are in despair. We had a man serve with us last night whom we had served the last time. Stay on your soapbox. Your voice needs to be heard.


  3. Dr. Davis,
    Could you clarify what you mean by saying your ministry to the needy is always "gospel focused"? The reason I ask, is that I think it's important to try to work through the role of doing good in relationship to the gospel, and we need to help more conservative churches think through this biblically. I can think of a few things that people might consider when they hear "gospel focused"
    1) We're doing it to show the lost the gospel (i.e., preaching without words)
    2) We're doing it to get a chance to preach the gospel (i.e., gaining a hearing)
    3) We're doing it b/c the gospel is all about meeting the needs of the poor (i.e., social gospel)
    4) We're doing it because the gospel has transformed us (i.e., adorning the gospel, or practicing godliness)
    I would imagine you could also combine a few, and it's very possible I've overlooked one. My guess is 3 is not what you're saying :), but I'm curious what exactly gospel focused means for you.
    Ben Edwards

  4. Ben:

    You're right on two points. Churches need to work this out and for us #3 has nothing to do with it. As a church we have given great consideration to this, continue to reflect on the subject, and one of our elders has written extensively on it. You will find one of his postings at the link below and a search of "Mercy Ministry" will bring up other posts.

    Luke 4:16 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

    Luke 7:22 “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard…the poor have good news preached to them.”



Leave a Reply