In Part 1 of this conversation, we looked at the importance of compassionate ministry in the lives of both Christians and local churches. The kingdom work of compassionate ministry is pivotal to answering Christ’s Great Commission. And this important work is sustained by a focus on connection and innovation as we engage in compassion. How do we engage in innovation and creativity as Christians? Change is not natural for us as humans, and change for the better is even more difficult to accomplish!
While every local church and community context will be unique, there are components to innovation that can assist in equipping you for effective, Christ-centered compassionate ministry. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a critical moment to respond to crisis with innovative compassion. Numerous local churches have stepped into a new season of ministry by creatively engaging in compassionate ministry during this time of extensive change.
Here are 6 keys to innovation in compassionate ministry, with examples from local churches and ministries during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Make prayer central. A compassionate life is the natural outpouring of a vibrant prayer life. Pray for your geographic neighborhood, your town or city, and the work of God in the location where God has placed your church. Prayerfully discern with other church leaders how your church can engage in compassionate ministry in the community where you are planted. In the words of Henri Nouwen: “[Prayer] is the very beat of the compassionate heart.” Compassionate ministry should be the product of ongoing prayer, both individually and communally.
Action Item: Hold regular (whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly) prayer walks through your community as a congregation.
2. Use technology to spark new opportunities. If there is one thing we have learned as a result of this pandemic, it is that technology is an essential tool in the twenty-first century. Dr. Ian Fitzpatrick, the national director of Church of the Nazarene in Canada, said it well: “Technology has helped us meet the moment of this crisis.” While it does have drawbacks, technology can be effective in sharing content and nurturing community.
Several churches developed online book clubs during the pandemic, which allowed individuals to read and discuss important books on social issues and Bible education. The beauty of these online groups is that they can bring together individuals with similar passions who might not have joined an in-person opportunity due to geographic or scheduling conflicts. Technology also allows for special events without the logistical and financial hurdles of travel or limiting attendance.
Another example of leveraging technology for good is the Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They used online video streaming to reformat their major annual fundraising event into a week-long, online engagement that included videos and interactive opportunities to learn about and invest in their ministry work. Check out their online fundraising event here.
Action Item: Invite young adults in your church to create and lead an online discipleship resource for a specific ministry within your church.
3. Gather to go. The point of gathering as Christians is to be equipped to go and engage in the work of God in our world. What if we came to see our churches as Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) that served as command hubs for engaging in the life-saving work of the kingdom of God in the areas of deep brokenness around us? When we function as EOCs, our churches can resource our congregants to be faithful in responding to hard times rather than fruitlessly attempting to prevent those hard times from occurring. Sometimes, the most transformative gatherings are those developed in the midst of going!
Anderson First Church of the Nazarene (AFC) in Anderson, Indiana, combined their community relationships from previously hosted neighborhood events with strategic partnerships with local government and business leaders to provide emergency relief bags for those impacted by the pandemic. While worship services have looked different during this time, AFC is actively engaged in being the church to their community through empowering volunteers, equipping neighbors, and loving those in need. The church has also helped renovate two neighboring empty lots into a community garden and neighborhood park to address hunger and isolation in their local neighborhood.
Action Item: In partnership with another local organization, plan a church-wide service day in 2021 that will get people out into your church’s community.
4. Do not limit the work of God because of money. Given our current historical moment, it is neither simple nor advisable to create new nonprofit organizations. We must instead equip our congregations to engage in compassionate ministry in our own contexts and in our own ways. Compassionate ministry work is not limited by 501(c)3 status, nor does it have to be restrained by financial resources. We are called to engage in the compassion of Christ by seeing the brokenness around us and responding like Christ to address that brokenness—which does not necessarily require a large budget.
In Amarillo, Texas, the Intersection Community Church was born out of a desire to focus on worship through service. What started as a food ministry in a local tent city has grown into a weekly service in a downtown parking lot with Amarillo neighbors who do not have permanent housing. The leaders of the church are also all covocational. Pastor Shawn Fouts emphasizes their non-building location as key to journeying with their underhoused neighbors: “If I follow the general model for church planting, what are we going to lose by not being in a parking lot?”
Nazarene churches from Bell, Coryell, and McLennan Counties in Texas partnered together at Christmas to raise more than $15,000 in order to forgive more than $1.5 million dollars of medical debt for local families. See more about this Texas-sized Christmas project, or read a Christianity Today article about how the debt-forgiveness program works.
Action Item: Create a resource kit (with connection ideas, Easter eggs for a front-yard hunt, or an Easter devotional outline) for members of your congregation to connect with their geographic neighbors this Easter.
5. Empower others to lead. If we believe in the priesthood of all believers, we should be equipping and empowering as many people as possible for the work of Christ. I’ve stated elsewhere that the church is most faithful to our calling when we understand that we are “the people of God engaging in the mission of God to restore the creation of God as part of the in-breaking kingdom of God.” This work must not and cannot be limited to clergy. The work of Christ must invite the involvement of every Christ follower.
The nonprofit organization CrossBridge in Nashville, Tennessee, pivoted their children’s programming during the pandemic, opening up their classroom space (and their internet!) for students to use during virtual schooling. This change enabled them to support the education of the children as well as assist working parents with childcare in the absence of in-person schooling. Empowering local college students to lead this effort, CrossBridge has been able to continue serving their community when so many other programs have been shut down.
God will often take our faithfulness and surprise us with the fruit. In August 2016, Shepherdsville First Church of the Nazarene in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, reimagined the idea of the Little Free Libraries to create a miniature food pantry in their community that they called The Shepherd’s Pantry. Four years later, Pastor Rob Bekkett has lost count of the number of Shepherd’s Pantries that have sprung up across Kentucky and Indiana because of people buying into the vision of this ministry and multiplying it in their own neighborhoods (he knows the number is more than forty-five). During the pandemic, these pantries have been pivotal to helping families make ends meet. “God took the idea and went ‘God-crazy’ about it!” said Pastor Bekkett.
6. Use partnerships to multiply impact. Engaging in compassionate ministry does not always require starting something new by ourselves. One pivotal element to compassionate ministry is finding where God is already at work and joining that work. The Mosaic Christian Community in St. Paul, Minnesota, has found a creative solution to address the issue of housing in their community: tiny homes. Partnering together with other churches, a local nonprofit, and the city government, Mosaic is in the process of constructing six tiny houses on their property that will provide housing for both neighbors and local missionaries.
Action Item: Schedule a meeting with one local organization or leader every month to help learn and participate in what is already going on in your community.
While some of these efforts will not be new ideas for you or your ministry, the combination of these six principles can produce a fruitful framework to move forward in compassionate ministry. Engaging in compassionate ministry will positively impact our neighborhoods as well as unify our congregations. Pastor Jeff O’Rourke, the lead pastor of Mosaic Christian Community, states it this way: “We have unity in our church not because everyone believes the exact same thing but because, despite our differences, we are all giving our lives to the hospitable mission of God.” May you continue to seek to connect with others, connect them to God, and innovate in compassionate ministry as we participate in the hospitable mission of God.