The Lord has been reminding me lately about the connection between our worship and our works. So often I have seen the church in general being inclined far more to worship and spiritual formation than good works. In the book of James, he chided the church for not having balance in stating, “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17). We understand throughout all Scripture God’s directive for all to love Him is displayed in how we love others.
One way we live this out is seen in how we express our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ (John 13:34-35). A more evangelistic way we love others is seen in how we show compassion and care for the widow, orphan, oppressed, hungry, vulnerable, broken and poor. How do churches meet these sometimes extreme needs?
In the book Upside Down Devotion, author Taylor Field, Pastor of Graffiti Church in NYC, tells about a man doing church and community work in San Francisco many years ago: “He said that the church always reaches out with the two hands of Christ in ministry. One of the hands is relief work, and one of the hands is release work.”
When it comes to relief work, we see the church dealing with the emergencies and crises of people’s lives in various ways, usually through individual relationships and less organized corporate ministries. It might be seen in providing a family in need with food to fill their empty pantry, bringing meals to a new widower or repairing a young single’s broken automobile to enable him or her to get to work. Many churches do this through benevolence funds.
We also have a more organized ministry through the BCNE directed at helping the survivors of disasters: our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief New England ministry. For instance, just last month we assisted a team going to Texas and two teams going to Puerto Rico to provide relief and rebuild work in the wake of last year’s enormous disasters. We do a lot of training, preparation and logistics in order to be Jesus’ hand of relief through Disaster Relief.
Release work is really ministry that is directed to freeing people from the bondage of sin. Certainly the evangelistic sharing of the Gospel is key, but there is also the creation of ministry that serves in the longer work of freeing people from the old axiom of “stinking thinking.” This might be seen in ministries that have to do with substance abuse recovery, homelessness, prison or foster care.
It is in these ministries that I find many times our churches are lacking. Sometimes there are reasons for shrinking away from these harder and longer works. It might be the issue of sustaining them with human and financial resources. Maybe it’s because walking with wounded and messed-up people can involve daunting long hours which saps the strength or availability of volunteers. Despite those obstacles, it is the Gospel and its effect of release that makes every ounce of energy put into these ministries worth it. God cares for lost and broken sheep, and so should we.
Tim Buehner is the mobilization and ministry evangelism coordinator at the Baptist Convention of New England.