Congregations of Compassion
When Jesus died for us he met our greatest need that we had no way to meet ourselves. In the Sermon on the Mount he promised that our Heavenly Father knows our needs and will meet each one.
Being the people who show Jesus to the rest of the world requires having a mindset to meet the needs of those around us because is reflects what God did for us.
Every day we greet people with, “How are you?” We need to learn to ask the next logical question, “How can I meet this need?” when we become aware of issues they are facing.
This has been an expectation of God’s people from the beginning. As the prophet Isaiah said,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked,
to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”
Historically and currently, active and selfless compassion directed toward our fellow man without the expectation of anything in return is what differentiates Christianity from other faiths. This was certainly the case in the early church.
How can local churches make this commitment to meeting the needs around them a part of their culture?
First, we can create a culture of personal compassion. Compassion commitment needs to come at the ground level and not be relegated to “professional” or committee ministry.
We need to develop a congregational ethos of individual accountability of meeting needs of the people around us. This will flow out of each person’s love and concern for people around them fueled by God’s love for each of us. Before we organize any programs to meet compassion needs, we need to figure out how to mobilize the individuals in the congregation to recognize and then meet the needs of people around them.
The initial “target” for compassion ministry can to be the people in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools and not focused on special populations that do not touch our daily lives. The development of this commitment starts from the pulpit.
We need to identify members of our body who have special gifts in mercy, compassion, and servant hood to mentor the rest of the congregation. Who can we have tell stories about on Sunday mornings to illustrate the joy of being Jesus’ hands to people around them? Who are the individuals involved in groups in our body that could help others in that group develop a commitment for meeting needs around them?
Second, we need to have a mechanism to make people and material resources available to the individuals who are meeting needs in their community.
A congregational survey of skills and availability may be a way to start a resource list. For example, if a person is aware of a neighbor with a roof leak who is not able to repair it and they are ready to jump in to meet the need, it would be enormously helpful to know who they can call for partnering in meeting that need.
Third, as a congregation develops the skills of identifying and meeting needs of people around them, individuals will rise to the surface that have a special passion for specific needs. Capitalize on their interest and expertise to build a ministry team that focuses on coordinating and deploying like minded folks to meet needs that arise.
One church I know has a “rapid response team” ready to go to work and their main complaint is that they don’t have enough to do!The point is that the key to developing a culture of compassion in our congregations is to start with our people meeting one another’s needs and meeting the needs of those who are in their circles of relationships.
If this becomes an expectation, you will see people from all walks of life releasing the love of Christ to those around them in tangible ways.
A few years ago Mary Ann and I were the recipients of this kind of love as a group from several churches painted and resided our home – something that desperately needed done but which we not do because of health limitations. We didn’t ask, they simply said, “we are going to to this.” We were humbled by their care and by God’s love to us through them.
What if whole congregations could be mobilized to develop that culture, ethos and servant-hood! It would change lives, and our congregations.
About The Author
T.J. Addington is a Senior Vice President with the EFCA and the leader of ReachGlobal, the international mission of the EFCA. He has served as a pastor, consultant and denominational leader.
Over the past twenty five years, T.J. has consulted with numerous churches and Christian non-profit organizations in the areas of healthy leaders, intentional leadership, governance systems and dealing with issues of organizational health and strategy. He resides with his wife of 36 years, Mary Ann, in Oakdale, MN and is the father of two sons and has two grandsons.
He is the author of five books: High Impact Church Boards;Leading From The Sandbox; Live Like You Mean It; When Life Comes Undone, and Deep Influence which is available for pre-publication orders. In his spare time T.J. is an avid fly fisherman.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org