A handful of people have recently asked me how they should approach ministry to the poor. Specifically, they want to know how to get started.
I used to tell people, “Pray and do what Jesus tells you.”
While this is still the best approach, I’ve realized it’s not the most helpful advice.
Ministry to the poor is the overflow of deeply engrained values. To use biblical language, this ministry is fruit from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus transforms our hearts, and we develop a new value system.
Here are some values necessary for ministry to the poor:
To truly love people, we have to be with them, there’s no way around it.
We’ve got to be willing to walk into an unfamiliar context and spend quality time with the poor.
A few years ago, I worked for a ministry that offered a weekly meal to the community. Volunteers prepared and served food while our neighbors sat and ate.
One Christmas season, I got a call from a guy who wanted to contribute in some way. He asked if he and his friends could prepare and serve the next weekly meal.
I told him the meal had already been arranged, but that we’d love for him and his friends to come down and eat with our neighbors, get to know them, and build some friendships.
He asked if he could just write a check instead. He admitted, “We’re really just looking for that warm Christmas feeling.”
First of all, writing a check is very generous. And there’s nothing wrong with finding joy in our generosity.
But, if we want to minister to people, we have to go to where they are.
Practically speaking, this means spending time with the poor in their context. This might be a front porch, an alley-way, or a soup kitchen. It might get messy, smelly, and uncomfortable, but this is our calling.
It’s also the example set by Jesus – he didn’t just send resources from heaven, he entered into our world (see John 1:14).
Once we’ve followed Jesus into a new context, we learn that consistency matters. Consistency in our presence and in our character.
Consistency in character is called integrity. It means we are the same person no matter the context.
A bad example of integrity is the story of the apostle Peter in the book of Galatians. He regularly shared meals with gentiles. But, when his Jewish friends showed up, he was afraid of judgment and refused to break bread with his gentile brothers. Paul rightly rebuked him.
Peter’s lack of integrity not only reflected poorly on himself, it actually damaged his testimony and confused the gospel message.
We must also commit to spend regular time amongst those we want to love.
A great example is marriage. We don’t just spend time with our spouses when we feel like it. No, we’ve made a lifelong commitment. This applies to ministry as well; we commit to a consistent presence regardless of our inconsistent feelings.
Have High Expectations
A weird thing sometimes happens when we become Christians – we start to doubt the power of the gospel to transform someone’s life.
This happens a lot with the poor. We think these people’s lives are too complicated and messy to change, the best we can do is give them food and money and send them on their way.
This is a lie from the depths of hell.
God has promised us that he’s chosen the poor to be rich in faith and inherit the kingdom.
Share the gospel and believe in its power to change lives. Fully expect God to do wonderful things and he will.
To summarize, I still think the best thing to do is pray and listen to Jesus. But, what you can expect is that he is going to tell you to enter into the darkness, shine the light of the gospel, and believe God will do something glorious.
(These values were pieced together by my dear friend, Jeff Minton. He gives away socks and makes pizza for the homeless. He is insane.)