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There can be a number of challenges for churches that that serve in hunger and homeless ministries. Pastor Dan Molind of Enough Ministries in Barre, Vt., is well acquainted with them. Enough Ministries serves the community daily through its meal kitchen and food pantries. They have seen many people released from bondage as they give their lives to Christ.

The messy lives of broken people bring challenges. “One can and should expect challenges when bringing the Gospel to any overlooked [or neglected] people group," Molind said. "The Adversary moves in predictable ways: acceptance of people unlike the congregation, mistrust, doubtful intentions, finances, rules. The keys to overcoming challenges are prayer, partnership and perseverance.  Prayer is your best ally, so don’t overlook it. Form a team to pray over all the ways the Adversary will move against you. You need to seek the prayers of those you are serving, and you need to be in prayer over them. Share the Gospel and grace at every meeting.” 

Any and every compassion ministry like this finds greater potential and capacity to impact lives by partnering with others. 

“Partner with other churches and organizations. Partner with stores, churches and secular organizations, because the more you have on your team the stronger you become. The great side benefit is that these other organizations need to know Christ too,” Molind said.

Perseverance is an important ally in any compassion ministry.  Molind said that “the Adversary loves to see you cut out and turn back, giving him strength and knowledge that he can conquer you.  When (not if) he comes against you, you need to redouble your efforts.  If you were serving 20, serve 40 or more. In this way you will let the Adversary know you are best left alone. It takes time. The lost, hungry and addicted will not trust you! It takes at least a year of consistently pouring into them with God's love no matter what until the first one will want to hear why you do this.” 

Compassion ministries often lack financial support. If the majority of church membership is made up of those who experienced release or are in recovery, they often don’t have the finances to help support the work. “Few, if any, from outside really want to support this type of ministry. The Adversary is the prince of materialism, so don’t expect to see people flocking to the cause," Molind said. "The church needs to be prepared to do it on their own, at least for a while. Partnering helps immensely in this area. Financial support is the fruit of the ministry not the root of the ministry.  With success, with life change, people will see a change and then they will help support it with their time, resources and talents. People that will partner or donate will look to see something successful, so you need to tell God’s story well.“

Molind encourages churches without such ministries to get involved. He said, “You don’t have to go very far to see people in need all around. That person that doesn’t smell good needs the Gospel not a shower. The reason they have a physical need is because they think they are still in control (a poverty of image bearing).They have a spiritual hole they can’t fill and in most situations don’t even know it. The purpose we should all be moving toward is ensuring that no one would face death without having first heard a personal Gospel presentation. Everyone else overlooks the needy in our community, so they need to know that they are something to God and that He alone created them with a purpose and with love. To feed the hungry without sharing the Gospel message is just sending fat people to hell. We shouldn’t have to be encouraged to do this work. We should recognize that we are blessed to have the ability to serve the Lord in this way. We are instructed to do this work by Jesus in Matthew 25: 35-40. If we have the capacity to do so, why would we fail to do as He instructed?  Serve Jesus by serving the people in your community.”

Moving from hungering to relationship

There are a number of tips Dan offers in doing compassion ministry.

The number one rule of compassion ministries is do NOT make any rules.  Service is about love not rules. Broken, needy people already have too many people telling them what to do. The police move them out of areas so Christmas shoppers will not feel bad, and move them about because they don’t want them camping there. You can establish procedures such as opening and closing times to limit access, or get items for people (serve them) instead of letting them self-serve to limit quantities so that you can love others too. They will know something is different if you use love language instead of rules. I tell folks when they ask (and they will) I have two rules: love God and love others. Simple. If everyone abides by those two simple things anything is possible. Rules turn compassion ministries from relationship to transaction. In every exchange strive to make it relational.

Don’t just give something, even something they think they desperately need. What they desperately need is a relationship with Christ. Just giving them stuff doesn’t build any relationship. They need to see relationship developed and modeled so that they will start to hunger for that relationship with Christ.  Make procedures to encourage relationship. For example don’t offer a set of boots. Offer to get them for them (serve them) ask what size, what kind of boot do you need, why do you need them. I can pray for them, I can ask more questions, I can listen to what they have to say, I can learn their name.  I’m starting to develop a relationship. Soon they will come back, and we can deepen that relationship and eventually earn the privilege to share with them a way out their situation.”

Our BCNE Church Strengthening office can assist your church in starting a feeding or hunger ministry. If we can help, contact Tim Buehner.

Tim Buehner is the mobilization and ministry evangelism coordinator at the Baptist Convention of New England.