Mercy Ministry in Mission Strategy

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The title of this piece comes from Phil D's blog "Mercy Ministry in Mission Strategy" where he shows the allure and pitfalls of mercy ministry, especially for those captivated by "issues of mercy and justice." He argues that mercy ministry is both distinct and inseparable from ministry of the Word. 

Phil starts this piece written from his perspective of someone raised in Southeast Asia, and who has ministered there for a long time. Find an excerpt from Phil's blog here: 

Frequently in mission endeavors, we encounter those who are not only destitute of gospel witness but also are suffering severely—materially, physically, and psychologically. How should this suffering impact mission strategy?

Issues of Mercy and Justice have captivated the younger generation of the global church. This presents both an opportunity and a risk. The opportunity lies in channeling this new source of energy into mission endeavors. The risk is that unless this labor is grounded in Christ and centered in Christ it will amount to wood, hay, and stubble and ultimately prove worthless, dissolving in the flames on the Day of the Lord.

The effort of this brief article is to contribute one piece of clarity to this important puzzle. This is not an academic project. Rather, I believe that such clarity is a necessary aid to our obedience and our unity. I trust it will serve as a biblical grid through which to screen contemporary voices – largely a cacophony of pragmatics.

I argue that Mercy Ministry is distinct and inseparable from the ministry of the Word. I will make some effort to define how they are distinct and to provide the grounds for inseparability. The implications, for the most part, are left to the reader.

Mercy Ministry is defined here as: The formal work of the church in deeds of service in the world in the name of Christ.

Some questions to reflect on:

a. How would you apply Phil's insights to your ministry practices?

b. Did he forget anything?

c. Does Phil's article help you to set priorities in your word and deed ministries?

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Hi John, Great questions. This is a question to which the CRCNA ought to pay more attention. What does missional engagement look like? In our denominational identity statement we say,"Just as a biblical understanding of the Christian life quickly leads to the church, so a biblical understanding of the church quickly leads to the word-and-deed nature of the church's mission. The church's mission has a word (proclamation) component; it also has a deed (action) component. ...Word and deed go together in the Christian life and in the church's ministry. the church can not divide the ministry of word and deed, and certainly can not choose between them." (page 41 of What it means to be Reformed, 2016, published by CRCNA). The work of Resonate Global Mission seeks to bring these two elements together. We seek justice and mercy as we proclaim God's message of redemption for his creation. 

      Thanks, Larry:

When Phil wrote the article (2018), and when "What it means to be Reformed" was penned (2016)  a person like Greta Thunberg had not captured the energies of today's youth and more. In posting this article, I thought about the recent Banner article which interviewed a number of young adults, and there too one gets the message that it is important to do something.

     I get a bit queasy when under the rubric of 'doing something' one of the first justifications is that we are "redeeming all of creation" or "doing justice." These are rich terms, but what do they actually mean? Can we use any of Phil's wisdom above to prevent us from falling into pragmatics, and I wonder where does some kind of work's righteousness derived from our doing start and end?

     Not long ago I heard a long list of things done by a group of Christians, and I asked myself, "Could any or all of these be done by a local humanitarian club, and do any or all of these absolutely require the power of the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled?"

   Maybe more questions than answers, but thanks for engaging.

John

Guide

Posting this on behalf of Roy Berkenbosch, theological advisor for World Renew and primary author of The Theology of Development:

 

Thanks John and Larry for kickstarting this important discussion.  I found Phil’s blog piece enlightening and interesting – he reminds us that mere activism, untethered to the good news of Jesus Christ is seriously limited.  He mentions the opportunity that lies in channeling the energy for change, especially among young people, into missionary endeavours.    He warns of the risk that unless this work is grounded in Christ it is futile.  I would offer two thoughts about that.  For one thing, the risk is also an opportunity – an opportunity for the church to come alongside this growing activism and wisely explain that the quest for justice, the desire to serve the neighbour, the passion to bring healing and hope, is in fact a significant theme in scripture and constitutes a major part of the work of Jesus and thus of the people of God.  When young people find that their concerns are not at cross-purposes to the mission of God they might find a new enthusiasm for the gospel too.  Secondly I think that even when good works do not include gospel proclamation, they might still be unintended imitations of Jesus, obedient, if unwitting, responses to the command to love the neighbour.  To that extent they are not futile, only incomplete.

Like Resonate, World Renew too is deeply committed to the integration of word and deed.  Here’s how we sometimes describe that integration: Because we believe that poverty and oppression are the result of broken systems and structures, and because that brokenness exists in a swirling matrix of ideas and beliefs, ideologies and worldviews, the introduction of the healing narrative of the gospel is indispensable for bringing about deep and sustainable change.  Christian community development that seeks to be transformational therefore must include not only education, health training and leadership development and so on, but also advocacy for just policies and renewed systems and structures; but more than that it recognizes the fundamentally religious nature of poverty and development, and thus brings the whole enterprise under the scrutiny and healing of the biblical narrative – the story of God’s healing and justice, of God’s Kingdom and salvation, the story of God’s creation and renewing of all things in and through Jesus Christ. We must to embrace that story, speaking it, living it, celebrating it and sharing it, so that we may relinquish the false dehumanizing stories that mar the image of God in us and which turns our best work to ruins.

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Thank you all for thoughtful discussion.

Absolutely agree to the call of the church (and individual Christ followers) to tell the good news and show the good news. I hesitate to say that they are so distinct. I believe we are called to a more integral and holistic approach to God's mission. Is not a Christ-centered missional life a weaving together of doing and saying, acting and thinking? In my community development work with churches, schools and community organizations some of the best opportunities for healing physically, emotionally and spiritually came from working alongside our community. The mercy and justice that was done, even without "gospel proclamation", led to health, wholeness, and beauty, as well as more opportunities for sharing the story. God is doing amazing things in our communities and provides us opportunities to join in. I wonder what would happen if we and our churches often asked these questions: why have I been placed in this community, what does God intend for this community, how is he already using the gifts of the community, what restoration work is needed in this community, and how can we join in?  God desires people and communities to flourish, and we fall short in our mission when we aren't working towards justice and restoration of the whole person or community. I hope more and more churches feel called to engage in their communities and share that transforming love and life of Jesus.