SERVING IN THE WAY JESUS SERVED IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU THINK, AND IT’S ALSO EASIER THAN YOU THINK. HERE ARE SOME WHYS AND HOW TO’S.
One of the things that God wants us to do as Christians is to “go forth and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Yet many of us lose sight of this. Once we are saved, we tend to become content with only ministering to those who come inside of our church. We forget to look beyond our church walls to do God’s work. But that is not how Jesus ministered. He didn’t sit inside of a synagogue and wait for people to come to Him, He went out into the world and reached out to others. He “went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Mt.4:23).
SEEKING THE HOPELESS
Jesus sought “unreachable” people. In John 4, He approached a Samaritan woman, stood and drank with and talked with her, even though He knew that she was living a life of sin. He spent time with her in her environment. He showed her love, not judgment. Because of this, she had a faith in Him that changed her life. The Samaritan woman wasn’t perfect, but Jesus wasn’t looking for perfect people. In fact, Jesus called, and is still calling, sinners and imperfect people to be His disciples. That is who He died for – all of us who are sinners.
Jesus had a lot of compassion for sinners and for the poor. In Matthew 21:32, He said: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick.
Jesus also loved those He served and those who served Him. “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).
By example, Jesus showed us how to reach out to all of God’s children, no matter what personal struggles they are dealing with. This includes the poor, the homeless, the ill, and all others in need. People from all walks of life need to know that God loves them and values them.
HOW CAN WE SERVE LIKE HE DID?
BE NOT AFRAID
Many people have the desire to help those in need, but they don’t know how. It can be frightening not knowing what kinds of people we will encounter. Or perhaps we don’t know how to help or where help is needed. Perhaps some of us feel that we are not gifted in an area that will be of use to the community.
But there is nothing to fear – community outreach is not difficult at all. And all of us have talents that are useful for this great purpose. There are many ways to help:
- Are there homeless in your area? Call your local homeless shelter and find out what kinds of services are needed. They need more than food and clothing. Other services can be offered, such as job training, worship services, bible study, and counseling.
- Are there communities in your area with large concentrations of the poor? If so, most likely there are parks and playgrounds that need upgrading or sprucing up; there may be schools that need supplies; there may be a desperate need for day care for the children of working parents.
- Are there some community centers in your area? Perhaps they need supplies such as hygiene items, socks, food, bibles, and tracts. Perhaps they need volunteers to help coordinate and coach sports teams or after-school activities. In our community we have Midnight Basketball for inner city youth.
- Pray and listen to how God would like to use you. He will let you know!
JUST DO IT!
We started a homeless outreach in the City ofNew Orleanswith nothing but a desire to minister to people in need. We began by making sandwiches and passing them out in a local park. Soon we began providing hot meals. The next thing we knew, we had several cars and trucks loaded with hot meals, hygiene kits, clothing, tables and chairs, blankets, backpacks, shelter vouchers, bus passes and anything else that we were able to provide. We had a warehouse full of donations that we received from our own congregation and from people in the community and even from around the country.
The outreach ministry grew as God willed it to, it didn’t happen all at once. We started with what we had, taking small steps, and as God blessed the ministry, it grew on its own. What we learned is that we shouldn’t worry too much about what supplies we will be lacking. If we take one step at a time, the Lord will provide. Here are some other things that may be helpful:
- We started off small – a group of people came to my house and we bought 10 loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly.
- One thoughtful volunteer brought a bag of leftover shampoo and soap samples he had taken from a hotel – out of this we eventually acquired enough hygiene items to make 100 hygiene kits to distribute twice a month with the meals.
- We encouraged volunteers to serve in areas where they felt called, gifted and useful. This caused them to have a lot of enthusiasm for the ministry, and as a result they had many great ideas that helped the ministry to grow.
Over time we began to receive donations from many sources:
- We placed a “love basket” in our church where members of the congregation could bring donations. Many times, if we ask for financial assistance, it may make people nervous, but if we start off asking for things that we know that people can spare, they will happily donate.
- When we shopped for items we needed, we always found the manager of the store and told him what we were doing, and 90% of the time we were provided with a gift certificate from the store.
- We went to local businesses and asked them to donate things like day-old bread and fruit. One well-known donut store said they would supply us with day old donuts, but they actually gave us bags of fresh donuts.
- We allowed people to serve in areas where they were gifted. Most people will gladly provide some of the materials that are needed for an area of ministry that they really love. For instance, there are many people who love to cook. Most of the time people who cooked for our outreaches donated all of the food that they provided.
- We asked everyone we knew to save the hygiene items that hotels provide. The same can be true for office supplies, school supplies, art supplies, or anything that may be useful to the community. We received bags of peanuts and snacks that people received on airplane trips. One ministry we had was to collect new Christmas presents that people were not going to use and we donated them to a battered women’s shelter.
- Some of us let our coworkers know that we were seeking donations. People want to people in need, they just need a way to do it. Even if they don’t have time to give, everyone can spare some food or pick up a few extra items at the store. And while asking for donations, we are spreading the message of Christ, because people will often ask us why we are doing what we are doing. We can reply simply “because Jesus loves us.”
- We spread the word – we met with other churches and organizations and gave them the opportunity to help. Helping is an opportunity, not a sacrifice.
- We asked unchurched people to help serve. You’d be surprised at how many of them became churched because they saw what Christianity was really about – they saw love and fellowship and joy in Christ.
- We didn’t wait for a location from which to reach out. We started serving in a park and we also served in a parking lot. We never had a building, but it didn’t stop us from doing what we thought God called us to do.
- We always wrote thank you letters when we received donations. In fact, one store had our letter up on its bulletin board for everyone to see. They wanted their customers to know that they care about our community.
IT’S EASY TO SHOW LOVE
The most important thing we encourage everyone to remember is that the poor are loved by Jesus and we are serving out of love. We do not serve and leave; we form relationships and treat the people we serve as the special children of God that they are. Some things we have done or will be doing are:
- We invite those we serve to our church on Sundays. And when they come we make them feel welcome. Some of the homeless guys we served before the storm felt so connected to our church that they joyfully and proudly tithed what little money they had. Several were baptized and attended church regularly. Some now have apartments and jobs.
- We talk to the people we serve and, more importantly, we listen to them. Often, the homeless, the ill and the poor are treated as though they don’t exist by society – people look the other way when they pass them in the streets. When we spend time with them, we are already blessing them in a big way. Jesus never looked the other way.
- We never dwell on why a person became homeless or how a person is in the situation they are in. If someone in need wants to tell is their story, we do listen, but without judgment. The person probably already has many regrets and doesn’t need them reinforced by others. Offer to pray with them instead.
- We often remind ourselves that we are always only one or two decisions away from where the needy are. Bad things can happen to any of us.
- We stress that the needy are NOT lucky that we are there – we are extremely blessed to be serving THEM.
THE “COST” OF SERVING
The benefits we receive from serving in our community far outweighs the costs. We all experience joy when we serve people in need. Not once has any person left from our outreaches feeling unhappy or unfulfilled or that his or her time was wasted. In fact, helping others gives us extra energy for the week. It renews us spiritually. It teaches us to be more loving to everyone, even to strangers. It is a great evangelism tool for the kingdomofGod. Whenever someone thanks us, we say no, thank YOU. And we remind them that everything that we provide isn’t from us, it is from God, because He cares about them. Serving improves our community and God’s world. It helps us to be more empathetic and understanding about things we don’t know about. And it brings us closer to Jesus and helps us to become more Christlike.
God cares about the poor. Ps. 82:3 says: “Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” Ps. 113:7 says: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” Jesus says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). He provides for the poor through us. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us…” (2 Cor.5:20). We are the hands and feet of Jesus, spreading His love with a joyful and loving spirit. And we are reaping so many unexpected benefits in the process!