When I was growing up (not that long ago, thanks), we had all the inward-focused ministries, like Sunday school and potlucks, and we had evangelism. I think we would have considered any activity that served the poor as “social gospel” (aka, El Diablo). Anyone have the same experience? Nearly everybody? That’s what I thought.*
I’m thankful that God loves us too much to leave us where we are. Instead of smiting us, He has begun to awaken the Church to our calling to:
- Care for those that Jesus cared for
- Do the things that Jesus did
- Make disciples, not just converts. Converts know the right answers. Disciples are learning to bring every area of their lives under the lordship of Christ.
But we struggle to do this well. After more than a hundred years of evangelical Gnosticism, it’s going to take some time and some hard work to re-learn how to be Ministers of Reconciliation. Most of all, it’s going to take the grace and power of God to transform us. Bootstrapping it is not going to usher in the Kingdom.
Our friends at King’s Church Medway are a bit further along on this journey than most churches. I asked them to share their story with us. May it encourage you to press in to long obedience that leads to transformation.
Matthew Guest is now the lead pastor of King’s Church Medway. But in the late 1990s, Matthew was simply volunteering to do odd jobs around the church when God began to change everything.
I remember it being autumn and I was sweeping the drive of the church, getting rid of all the leaves that were clogging up the driveway, when a man I didn’t recognise started walking towards me…I asked him if he was okay and whether I could be of any help at all. He replied that he was hungry and asked for something to eat. I couldn’t really say no; I didn’t want to say no, so I invited him into the church hall and sat him down. He said that he was homeless and had nowhere to live; his appearance seemed to confirm as much.
Our church was very different then and the only thing that really happened of a week was a mother and toddler’s group, which met on Tuesdays. So I had a look inside the kitchen to see if there was anything left. The only thing that I could find was some left over cheese and the remains of a loaf of bread, which had seen better days.
I gave it to him, and he began to eat quickly without a word of gratitude or even a thank you.
When he had finished, we began to talk. He began to open up and he even told me his name, Michael. He told me about his situation, which he explained wasn’t uncommon in Medway, that there were loads of people living just like him, in squats, in hostels or worse still – on the streets. He explained about some of the causes, the drug addiction, alcoholism and the cycle that people can’t seem to get themselves out of.
After he’d finished, I asked him if he would like to pray, but he declined. I asked him if he minded me praying for him instead, which he was more comfortable with. So I did. I prayed for him, asking God to watch over him and provide His protection.
In the days that followed, I felt that we as a church could perhaps do more, but I wasn’t sure what.
I visited the hostel that Michael spoke about and I volunteered there, helping with serving breakfast in the mornings. But the people there weren’t responsive to me until I began to integrate with them, and only then did I start to feel accepted.
Continuing on, I began to visit squats and other hostels to get a better idea of the bigger picture. My wife, her friend and an elderly lady from the congregation would gather together to pray whilst I was out ministering.
I was not looking to start a ministry, rather just to help those whom God had caused to cross my path.
At first no one wanted to know about what I was doing or get involved. Then, as God was giving success to my outreach efforts, others took notice and began to help. After about two years, a small group formed to forward the work. When the fruit of the work became visible to all, the church leadership began to get behind the work as well.
Eventually we found some space within the church building on the ground floor underneath the main worship area. It was only a small space but we used it for a bigger purpose, where people could come under shelter and enjoy a hot drink and some food. Caring Hands in the Community was born.
Caring Hands in the Community operations have grown apace with Medway’s community needs. Our Day Centre now houses and operates a full GP Surgery, Alcohol and Substance Misuse Counsellors, a UK Online Internet Suite and a Legal Advocate. We prepare and provide some 1,500 meals and snacks each week. We also offer showers, laundry and clothing exchange to our, on average, ninety visitors each day, five days a week.
The impact upon King’s Church Medway as a body was that it caused our eyes to be opened as we beheld the reality of life for the poor and the needy in our community. It caused us to wake up to the necessity of working with the whole community to affect the plight of these people.
We are the body of Christ. A body must progress every day, not just once a week. Life flows from the throne of God to the body continually so that the world may receive Jesus. It is simply wrong to, in effect, turn off the flow six days per week when we have a world around us going to hell, yet we have the key to their escape.
My advice to those who feel stuck or weary or unsure how to begin to help the poor is this: When Jesus says, “help the poor” it is not a suggestion, it’s a command.
Realizing this will serve as motivation to begin and continue through the early days and the hard times. Remember, success should not be the driver, but rather obedience to God should be the core of all we do.
Start with what you have got. I started with one cheese sandwich. Be faithful with the little you have as resources and God will grow your stores as the need arises. In man’s hands there were two loaves and five fish, but when they obeyed that fed thousands.
Michael, the first man I helped, met with me some 2 years later. His life had been completely changed and, most importantly, Michael had accepted Jesus as his Saviour!
We desire to help other churches to fulfil the call of God to help the vulnerable in their communities. The needs vary from area to area but the principle remains the same. It is out of obedience to God first that we are able to display the gospel of Jesus Christ in full view of this world, bringing relief to the needy and praise unto our Father in heaven.
If you would like to support the work of King’s Church Medway and Caring Hands in the Community, visit http://www.caringhandsuk.org.uk/. If you would like to seek advice or mentoring from the leadership of Kings Church Medway, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
*If you want to understand how the Church ended up in “saving souls” mode, I suggest you read Scott Allen’s excellent paper.Image Courtesy of Clare Bell/ Flickr.com