Mercy is a Core Value
One of our core values in New City type churches has to be our pursuit of the poor. I use that phrase to show that we want poor people in our church, we don’t simply want to minister to them. The poor need so much, and I thank God for all acts of kindness to them. But, and that is an important demarcation, the poor need to be gathered into the fellowship of the saints. They need the Gospel, they need discipleship, they need community, they need the wonderful security of the Body of Christ. For this reason I have a real problem with what I call “mercy tourism.” This seems to be the prevalent way young urbanites who are planting churches seem to approach the issue of ministry to the poor. They farm out their members as volunteers with the rhetoric that they are affecting the city. The volunteers get involved in tutoring and with various agencies who do good and some of them develop real relationships with poor folks. If this leads to relationships that are part of that gathering that Jesus desires, by bringing people into discipling relationships, and bringing them into the Body then that is good. However, I tend to think much of it is a tendency to make the middle class feel good about themselves and not really make an impact on poverty or the systems that create and sustain poverty. Obviously we need to mobilize our people into good works, but as stewards of the time of our people, as stewards of our money, as stewards of our passion and energy it seems to me that we need to focus ministry on what makes the most impact, the longest lasting effect, the most radical change for the poor. I am convinced that the community of saints is where poor people need to be gathered and this requires so much more than just a drop of charity, or a work project. Believe me, I know what a bag of groceries can do for a family when they are hungry. I have received such help from Deacons, and I praise God for that mercy. Yet, it was just a step along the way of bringing my family into the loving and caring arms of the church. Without the discipleship of the church we would have continued to be recipients, and God wants us to become people who work with our own hands to supply our own needs, and then to have enough to help others who are in need. To be a New City type church means you have to love the poor. None of us are perfect in our methods, that is not our standard, but the intent, the effort, the practice has to be real. How do you help your own poor members? How do you evangelize among the poor? How do you pursue charity and how do you pursue development? I think we have different models within this network of helping poor folks. Some of us are more charity oriented, and some of us are more development models. What is interesting to me is that from my observation development models have stronger economic impact on a community but less poor people in the worshiping community. My hope is that all of us would develop both aspects of mercy, that our congregations would advocate and strongly use the office of Deacon in the church for the purpose of mercy and that our gifts would be mobilized to use development strategies to change the economic lives of the poor in our church and in our community. We should not settle for models that do not evangelize the poor. We can create housing models, medical models, job training and placement models, business creation models, education models, arts and music initiatives and still see no growth of conversions. If that is so we are failing. The preaching, strong preaching of the Word, and calling people to faith should go hand in glove with effective ministries of mercy. I believe this should cause us to live in tension, and it is a tension that keeps us honest.