Basic Steps to Begin a Mercy Ministry
by David S. Apple
There seems to be no end to opportunities for serving others. Before you begin, consider five principles: planning ahead wisely, learning from others, learning from the past, anticipating the future and counting the costs. And remember that the goal of developing new ministries is to glorify to God and benefit those you seek to serve.
Counting the costs
As you venture into ministry development, make sure that your proposed ministry actually meets a genuine need. Early in our history, a leader wanted to develop a ministry for recording books on tape for the nursing homes residents we served. It was a wonderful idea. But, as we found out later, there was no need. For two years, volunteers worked to record the tapes. We produced their labels. We arranged to get tape players from the Library for the Blind. Volunteers gave time, effort and love preparing the tapes for use, but we found in the end that no one wanted them. The nursing home residents said they were satisfied with the local library’s recorded book service and could even obtain some of the religious books we produced. Our volunteers were discouraged and I was disappointed—disappointed with the result. Yet, we learned a lesson. Make sure there is a real need before you try to meet it.
As you consider starting a new ministry, think of the problems you may encounter. What obstacles could you face? Early in our process, the biggest obstacles were leaders and others opposed to our working with homeless persons. Actually, they were not antagonistic to that work. They were opposed to our ministering to homeless men and women in the church building! So, we sought to build bridges to lovingly win them over. There were individual meetings and small group meetings on the ministry itself, and there were seminars and conferences on the biblical aspect of mercy. And we prayed. As a result, people gained a new perspective as we presented facts about the ministry, who the homeless were, how we would serve, and—especially—what security measures we had in place. And the more we taught about the Bible and the poor, the more the Holy Spirit moved people’s hearts.
Do not neglect prayer and its power. Invite people to pray and ask God to show them the rightness of your ministry. In our experience, many not only ended their opposition, but became supporters.
The planning phase is extremely critical. Most importantly pray. Begin with prayer. Be steadfast in prayer. Pray without ceasing. Did I say to pray? Picture the ministry. Place it before God.
What is the need and who are its proposed recipients? Is another church or agency currently meeting this need? If so, how will your ministry be uniquely different? Develop a committee to thoroughly explore these issues. Include wise, experienced church leaders and those with memories of past efforts. Build bridges with different people and groups and gain the ownership of the leaders.
You will need to consider finances. Do you need a guaranteed source of funds before proceeding? Is funding part of the church’s budget? Is funding automatically renewable, and if so, for how long? Is funding contingent on grant applications? Who will write the grant application?
You will need a steering committee or board of directors. Will fund-raising be the domain of the board of directors or that of the ministry coordinator? If it is the ministry coordinator’s responsibility, this will limit his focus on the ministry itself. Also, what type of accountability structure will you have (controlling or advisory board)? Consider the benefits of people guiding you versus people dictating to you (you may feel that way). How would you benefit from a controlling board of directors? Will the board give freedom and ownership to the ministry coordinator? Will he or she be tied to a hitching post or led by a lamp post?
You will need trained ministry staff. Make sure adequate training is available. You can do this yourself or better yet, cooperate with other churches or church groups (Presbyteries, etc.). Local agencies—nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospitals, police departments, etc.—frequently have open-to-the-public training. The internet is a wealth of information with “How-to” manuals. Vimeo.com has a wealth of training films (search for Tenth Presbyterian training for some of ours). Tenth.org has a number of written, audio and video training materials on its site.
Remember, there are natural consequences to your actions. You want to plan wisely and be ready with the right resources to “intercept the future” when it arrives. Respect God’s timetable. Be deliberate and careful (do it once and do it right). And continue to pray.
Learn from the past and anticipate the future
Every organization has a particular ministry “culture”—a specific way of doing ministry. Some church’s leaders might say, “We don’t do it that way here?” Or “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” Examine your church’s history of ministry accomplishments, successes and learning experiences. Speak with those who possess vibrant memories of these experiences. How would they characterize the “culture” of your church? Would you say it is open or ready for new ministries and/or new ways of doing ministry?
Do you believe change is necessary? Why it would be a good thing? Ask the question, “What will happen if we do things differently (and it works)?” How will the result benefit the church and community? What will be the short-term benefit? Long-term? Imagine what you want your church to look like in ten-twenty years.
Anticipate spiritual attack. Who are the prayer warriors who can bathe these plans in prayer? Mobilize them. Pray. Pray some more.
Put it into practice
It took perseverance, prayer, support, encouragement and more prayer in our ministry development. One of the most important lessons learned is that we can’t change other people. We must wait and pray and trust God to do the changing. And what started as programs to outsiders became a blend of hospitality ministries with guests and for guests. We get involved (show up), establish relationships and offer hope. We make the church welcoming and safe for our guests as many have lost the support of churches, families and friends. Establishing personal relationships helps remove the stigma and the stranger-ness which our guests have felt in most churches.
We also make it user-friendly for our members to be involved, equipping them to fearlessly come alongside others. We make ministry convenient, measurable and specific. And our ministry philosophy is that while we advocate, we don’t work harder than the people coming for help. We seek to empower without creating a relationship of dependency.
From Not Just a Soup Kitchen by David S. Apple
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.