Going Beyond the Four Walls of the Church: The Impact of Community Ministry
Local churches often make a significant mistake when it comes to helping those in poverty. They sometimes create divisions in their efforts that aren’t really necessary, according to Scripture. When we split up the act of spreading the message of God’s transformative power (evangelism) and the act of serving others or providing practical life skills (service or technical programming), we give the wrong impression that the world is fragmented. We make it seem like God’s work is separate from helping people in need.
For instance, in The Chalmers Center’s Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry training, we emphasize that giving assistance to those in need should not be an afterthought or something “tacked on” to a church’s activities. Instead, it should be a clear demonstration of the message of hope that believers are proclaiming. God’s nature is full of compassion, and this was shown most strongly through the life of Jesus. As believers who are being guided by God’s Spirit to become more like Christ, we should embody this compassion in both our words and actions.
However, many churches and the groups they support struggle with this concept. There are practical difficulties, such as feeling compelled to provide immediate relief for urgent needs without knowing how to engage with those in poverty for the long term. There’s also a mental hurdle—some might even say a theological one—where benevolence is seen as separate from the “true” work of spreading the gospel and guiding believers.
But in reality, setting up a competition between outreach and evangelism or benevolence and mercy work isn’t helpful for churches or the groups they support. What if seeing these as interconnected aspects could lead to better outcomes for both areas of ministry? Let’s explore a few ways to consider this idea:
1. Including Everyone in Benevolence Efforts
Taking care of both material and spiritual needs of church members is an essential part of the church’s mission. However, many times, churches focus on caring for the needs of their current members and don’t extend a helping hand beyond them. This can narrow the scope of benevolence ministry from something that everyone in the church does to the responsibility of a few individuals. This shift can make church members feel like customers of the church’s services rather than active participants in ministry.
Engaging the whole church, from regular attendees to pastors, in benevolence work is crucial for the long-term success of these efforts. When church leaders emphasize the importance of compassion and mercy, it becomes easier for everyone to see these actions as integral to the church’s identity. This, in turn, makes it more feasible to recruit, train, and support volunteers in sustainable ways. Spiritually, involving more church members with struggling families and communities fosters compassion, prayer, and reliance on Christ.
2. Understanding Communities from a Missionary Perspective
When we think about church planting or mission work, we understand that it takes time to adapt to a new culture and context. However, we often overlook this patience when dealing with our own communities. Instead of truly understanding the circumstances of our neighbors, we tend to apply the same strategies repeatedly, hoping for different outcomes.
A benevolence ministry that integrates with outreach can help church members gain a broader view of their communities. For wealthier church members, this might mean delving into the challenges faced by those with fewer resources. By embracing a holistic approach to benevolence, churches can build bridges, initiate genuine conversations, and form real relationships. This can be a transformative experience for both sides. Recognizing the people we serve can also guide how we allocate resources to address the gaps in community support and advocate for our neighbors’ needs.
3. Collaborating for a Stronger Impact
Thinking of our church as an island can unintentionally create divisions in our efforts. It’s important to realize that we can’t help everyone who comes to us for assistance. Once we connect deeply with our community, the sheer volume of needs can be overwhelming. This is where partnerships in ministry come into play.
First, prayer is a vital aspect of effective benevolence work. Church members should approach helping others with the same dedication as they do other spiritual activities. Second, chances are that your church isn’t the only one trying to address certain needs in your area. There might be local nonprofits or even government initiatives doing similar work. Before launching your own efforts, it’s beneficial to learn from others and collaborate where possible. Combining forces with other churches and community organizations can result in a more impactful and efficient benevolence ministry.
In Conclusion: Taking the Next Steps
Ministry is complex, and each community has its unique challenges. Regardless of your circumstances, Chalmers offers tools to help guide your benevolence efforts. If this discussion has inspired you to take action, consider joining the Helping Without Hurting in Benevolence Ministry program. This six-week training focuses on best practices for a holistic approach to benevolence, helping you transition from simply meeting immediate needs to forming lasting relationships.