7 Important Keys to Compassionate Ministry
In compassionate ministry, there are many ways to be effective - and many mistakes that can be made along the way. Having grown up a part of a church and a not-for-profit that is actively engaged in compassionate ministry, I have seen firsthand the best and worst parts of compassionate ministry.
My life experiences, combined with my graduate studies, has provided me the opportunity to unpack some key facets to effective compassionate ministry.
Compassionate ministry, simply put, is journeying with others and assisting them in meeting the tangible needs in their lives along the way. It is more than just acts of charity or sympathy. Compassionate ministry, at its best, is a holistic approach to addressing the individual and systemic needs of others while having a relationship - a friendship - between everyone involved.
Here are 7 important keys to engaging in compassionate ministry from an organizational level (as a community center or church):
Define Your Neighborhood: Decide what geographical area your ministry is going to focus on. To borrow from the Catholic church, what is your 'parish'? What are of your community are you going to own and say - "For better and for worse, we love this community, we take responsibility for this community, and we are staying in this community."
Engage Your People’s Passions: Regardless of the organization that you are a part of, there has to be buy-in from both the surrounding community as well as your congregants/members/staff. Allow them to engage their passions and drive initiatives. You cannot be the only champion of a cause. A sweet spot in deciding 'what' to do is where the needs of the community intersects with the passion of your people.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Unique: There is no 'one size fits all' approach to compassionate ministry. While food pantries and soup kitchens can be effective, they may not be needed in your community because every neighborhood is different. Try something new, something creative, something 'niche' that reflects the interests, gifts, and needs of your particular community.
Start Small: We don't have to solve all the problems of our neighborhood by ourselves or with one single program. Because, simply, we can't! But we can make a difference by starting somewhere. So feel free to start small, have small successes and have those grow into bigger successes. Let them snowball into something bigger over time. Starting big and failing means lots of lost money and hours of work along with disappointed and burned out people. But if you start small and fail? Well then you have all the freedom to try something else because not all of your money and resources were tied into that one initiative. Yet - don't be afraid to be aggressive! Start small, yes, but work aggressively to make that small start succeed and grow.
Aim For Quality: An important element in this is providing quality service across the board. Whether it is a program you are running or supporting, make sure the service, the food, the clothing - whatever it is - is quality. Provide for others services and items that you would want to receive yourself. (Read here: Avoid Cream of Mushroom! I don't know anyone who enjoys that stuff.)
Give A Hand Up Over A Hand Out: In our compassionate outreach, we should aim to empower people and not just give them a hand out. Our compassion should be helping people step in the direction of getting back on their feet while also communicating their value NOW. What does this look like? Asking the homeowners to help on home repair projects, client-choice food pantries, and asking those you are helping to contribute as well. Because EVERYONE can contribute something: time, effort, or small financial contributions. When that happens, we are not only helping others physically, but we are also communicating the fact that they have something to offer. That they have worth and that they have something to bring to the table (both metaphorically and literally).
- Proclaim Jesus: Most importantly, in everything we do, we must proclaim Jesus, display His love, and point people to Him. Meeting a physical need without seeking to introduce someone to Christ is only half the Gospel. Likewise, telling someone about Jesus without showing them His coming Kingdom through compassionate actions is also only half the Gospel. Declaration without demonstration proclaims a hope that isn't relevant to today. Demonstration without declaration smooths over the potholes in people's lives but simply paves their way to Hell.
Are there other important keys to compassionate ministry? Of course.
But addressing these 7 items will get you headed in the right direction as you move forward in compassionate ministry.
To quote my wife, "Compassion is when your heart is broken, and you are moved to action."
So allow your heart to be broken, and act on it.