Two years ago a local minister and I began praying about how to bring the gospel and mercy ministry to our town and county. We sensed a deep desire for churches to walk in unity and felt led by God to do something about it. After more than 2 years or praying, meeting, planning, and working, our two congregations have built a joint framework for local churches to partner together for the gospel and mercy ministry. We hope that where other Christians have gone before us to cultivate, sow, and water the seeds of Christian unity, this current effort of gospel partnership will bear much fruit. (I will have more to say on the nature and work of this partnership in the future.)
Partnering with other local churches in evangelism is no small task. It can be done through shared programs and events, and we’ve been blessed to have some experience in this department over the last year. Three congregations have worked together to host joint a VBS program and a “Live Nativity” that our town permits during Christmas festivities. But when it comes to mercy ministry, finding ways to get even one congregation to reach our neighbors with the gospel through felt needs mercy is a much larger undertaking. Churches need a many things for mercy ministry that is gospel-driven to happen. God must prepare a congregation to serve, and mercy ministry leaders—whether they be pastors, elders, deacons, or others—must do their part to move strategically from inaction to action. This is where a book like Tim Keller’s, Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road [hereafter MOM], can meet such a need.
Now in its third edition (this review is of the second ed.), MOM is a two-part study on the theological rationale (principles) and the how-to steps (practice) to build a vibrant mercy ministry in your church. Even though the book is written with instructions for individual congregations to tackle this issue, it does give several ideas for multiple churches partnering together for the sake of unity, pooling resources, and meeting needs that may be too much for a single church. The first part of MOM is an extended theological study on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Keller devotes more than 100 pages to the meaning and implications of this famous story that Jesus told to answer the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Each of these chapters, originally written almost 30 years ago, are still relevant and penetrating. Well, every chapter except for the Introduction which attempts to extrapolate the pressing social problems of the late 1980s into the future. For example, the AIDS crisis has not reached the level of epidemic health crisis once predicted. But many of the other socio-economic trends have continued in the direction foreseen. The white-collar cultural elites are just beginning to realize the extent of hardship in much of America. MOM cites statistics on the rise of poverty, the growth of number of people considered homeless, the working poor and their children who are trapped in a grinding cycle of poverty, the problem of youthful poor, the new and changing ethnicities in our midst, the blue-collar poor (many of whom turned out in record droves to vote for change in 2016), the graying population, the problem of the sick and un(der)insured, and our swelling prison population. While much has occurred in the last 30 years that was unforeseeable, Keller conclusions in the Introduction remain true: Continue reading