by Alemu Beeftu
In the early church, witnessing to the resurrection of Christ and meeting needs by the power of the Holy Spirit were just part of living a normal Christian life.
In the early church, witnessing to the resurrection of Christ and meeting needs by the power of the Holy Spirit were just part of living a normal Christian life. Talking about Christ, sharing the Good News, and exercising the power and joy of God were the result and manifestation of the new life in Christ and the fulfillment of the promise of God. "Being" and "doing" were not viewed separately. Believing in Christ (being) and living as a Christian (doing) went hand in hand.
"Ministry," then, was the responsibility of all Christians and meant living a normal Christian life. Although the gift and nature of a ministry varied, the ministry itself was viewed as part of daily life. Hence, the purpose of Christian ministry was to reflect the fulness of Christ in the totality of each person’s life, and to exercise one’s gifts of the Holy Spirit within the unity of the body of Christ.
The model for the ministry was Christ, the enabling power was the Holy Spirit, and the motivating factor was the love of God the Father. The nature of the ministry was holistic and complete in the sense that it encompassed physical and social, as well as spiritual, needs. No wonder that the early Christians devoted themselves with passion to God’s work, preached freedom from both the power and the result of sins, and valued fellowship.
Divine love clarified their motives and compassion helped them to identify and even suffer with the people they were serving. If we were to ask those Christians why they did what they did, their answer would have been something like this: "We have a moving force called compassion for other people, and we would like to iden-tify with them, suffer with them, and share with them all we have, including our lives."
CLARIFICATION OF "COMPASSION"? (VS. MERCY AND PITY)
Thus, "ministry" could have been defined as: the calling of all Christians to serve others holistically and compassionately. However, like all things, the concept of Christian ministry has undergone many changes during the last 2,000 years. In more recent times, compassion, as the guiding motive for ministry, is often confused with two other concepts, pity and mercy. These are sometimes stages one passes through before reaching compassion.
Pity is simply an emotional response to a given need; it is like responding to a beggar on the street. Mercy is a word rooted in the Old Testament and reflects the justice and holiness of God. In the biblical context, divine mercy is God’s forgiveness of sinners despite the fact that it is undeserved. In human terms, mercy reflects, an act of charity through kindness or goodwill. Neither of these requires long-range commitment or responsibility, and both often arise from a feeling of uneasiness or guilt.
On the other hand, Jesus exercised compassion during Ms earthly ministry, as he identified and suffered with and cared for lost human beings. Compassion, in this context, implies total suffering in love (sacrifice) for the other. The dictionary defines compassion as "suffering with another."
CHANGES IN THE BIBLICAL VIEW OF MINISTRY
With this clarification in mind, we can more fully understand current concepts of "ministry." Five major changes in attitudes or actions regarding Christian ministry can be identified. These are discussed below.
Restriction of Christian ministry to spiritual heroes. As mentioned, Christian ministry as used in the New Testament refers to a total way of life guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. This concept has changed over the years. The contemporary view of Christian ministry emphasizes the role of external activities that can be added to spiritual life if there is a need for it. Therefore, ministry has become the responsibility of a few individual spiritual heroes. In other words, the holistic view of the Christian life has relegated to a few selected individuals, in a a spiritual elite. The concept of full-time and part-time ministries resulted. We have divided Christian responsibilities into functional categories, such as "pastoral jobs," "full-time ministry," and "missionary." John Stott expresses a concern for this trend when he writes:
We are often given the impression that if a young Christian man is really keen for Christ, he will undoubtedly become a foreign missionary, that if he is not quite as keen as that he will stay at home and become a pastor, that if he lacks She dedication to be a pastor, he will no doubt serve as a doctor or a teacher, while those who end up in social work or the media or (worst of all) in politics are not far removed from serious backsliding! It seems to me urgent to gain a truer perspective in this matter of vocation. Jesus Christ calls all His disciples to "ministry," that is, to service. . .The only difference between us lies in the nature of the service we are called to render.. .(Christian Mission in the Modem World, p. 31).
Specialization of Christian ministry. Simultaneous with technological advances in the West, "Christian ministry" become specialized into catego-of non-professionals, semi-professionals, and professionals. Seminaries train people to become specialists for "Christian ministry."
With these changes in the concepts of ministry, a dichotomy between people’s spiritual and physical needs has emerged. Those who go to seminary specialize in spiritual concerns (namely, to reach the lost souls and nurture the found ones), while non-specialization is more and more a declining concern. People are less aware that ministry, in the biblical sense, refers to living a "normal Christian life."
Basis and motivation for ministry.With the changes in the concept of ministry and the emphasis on specialization, the basis and motivation for ministry also started to change. The earlier motive for ministry involved compassion rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit and the concern of the church for those without the Good News. According to R. Pierce Beaver, during the Western missionary movement, missionaries were motivated by the glory of God and compassion for perishing souls. Such compassion for the lost became the primary concern of "spiritual heroes" who became missionaries, local pastors, or evangelists. "Ministry" was perceived as a burden that only a few spiritual heroes were called to carry, instead of the calling of all believers to holistic ministry. Lack of total involvement, or serious commitment, was the result, and holiness was measured by attendance at religious gatherings and through tithes and offerings.
FROM COMPASSION TO MERCY
The responsibility for motivating the local church, or believers, fell to those with "Christian ministries" (pastors, missionaries, evangelists, etc.). Although these leaders challenged local churches to be compassionate about the lost, they typically evoked their followers’ pity and called for mercy as a response. Responses varied, depending on the unique situation of denominations and churches. In the process, giving in order to be merciful (i.e., help without responsibility) replaced biblical compassion. The emphasis on mercy undermined the capacity of Christians to identify with the needy and to take biblical responsibility for responding to their needs.
Compassion forces one to be counted with others, but mercy is calculated action that depends on the giver’s will. Being merciful gives one the authority to control the nature of the assistance. It is a one-way relationship often based on pity. It is an act of kindness, but not of responsibility, and there is little opportunity for the needy to determine the nature of the assistance. In parachurch activities, relief work is often founded on pity and rehabilitation is often built on mercy, while long-range development is usually founded on compassion.
EMERGING OF CHRISTIAN PRIVATE VOLUNTARY ORGANIZATIONS
After World Wars I and II, the establishment of Christian private voluntary organizations (CPVOs) indicated a significant change in the approach to ministry. The great dichotomy between spiritual and physical needs and the exclusive focus on spiritual needs by Western churches and most missionary movements created a gap that CpVOs have tried to bridge. Most the of the CPVOs justify their existence as primarily meeting physical needs. This is apparent in their statements of objdectives and in their activities.
Consider for example, the following goals: "to under-activities in the field of development, sponsor nutrition education programs, distribute (food, medicine, clothing, etc.) emergency needs due to natural and man-made floods, civil strife, etc.) (Catholic Relief Services); "to serve the common interest of U.S. Orthodox churches in works of Christian mercy, relief, technical assistance, rehabilitation and interchurch aid" (Church World Service).
The activities of parachurch organization after the major wars, particularly in Asia, were well supported. Many Western churches were challenged about neglecting physical needs and exclusively focusing on reaching the souls of the heathen. The historical background of some CPVOs indicates that many individuals and churches were moved with pity for the orphans and other needy individuals after the war. CPVOs typically asked Western Christians and churches to be merciful to poor and dying children. Giving money for such causes (mercy) was the least they could do. CPVOs enjoyed generous responses both from individuals churches. However, both individuals and churches were still lacking the commitment and responsibility required by true compassion.
Child sponsorship became one way of showing mercy to the poor. One of the promises made in child sponsorship programs is that the sponsor is free to stop assisting at any time. If that is not an act of mercy, what is? John Stott defines mercy as "the disposition to forgive or show kindness when it is merited or expected." In recent years the act of mercy has been viewed as an act of kindness based on personal feelings of pity or sympathy, not on responsibility. As missionaries struggle to raise support to go overseas to "win souls," CPVOs are struggling to raise funds for responding to the physical needs of the people they assist.
In order to appeal to emotions, CPVOs are commonly forced to rely on the following methods for fund raising: (1) select disastrous situations and use images on TV and in literature to appeal to the feelings of the audience; (2) use pictures of naked and sick children; (3) hire professional fund raisers to select the most emotionally appealing pictures and words ("the needy," "the poor," "the poorest of the poor,"the helpless," "the dying," etc.). It should be made clear at this point that giving to those in need is not wrong. Indeed, it is commendable and a great of gratitude to the CPVOs should be felt by humanitarians around the world. Giving based on pity is not wrong. The problem is that all too often, giving is limited to this level, without entailing commitment or responsibility.
This appeal to pity has created serious problems for some CPVOs. The first is that, although CPVOs generally want to do development work as well, they actually spend most of their energy on relief and Development, i.e., finding lasting solutions to problems and needs, is very much limited in comparison with relief efforts.
CPVOs cannot be effective in development work as long as they are emphasizing relief and rehabilitation work because of fund raising concerns. Although CPVOs are convinced that relief without development is an inadequate solution, they are caught between the need to focus on relief for fund raising purposes and the desire to pursue development activities in the field. The activities of CPVOs tend to be controlled by the fund raisers. The primary concern of fund raisers is not to seek lasting solutions, but to emphasize situations to which people respond psychologically.
The biblical view of ministry is living a normal Christian life by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is ministering by "being" and results from a new nature and closer relationship with a holy and loving God. Our primary ministry is to God, relating to him as our Father and worshiping him with all of our being. The rest of our ministry, which will vary according to our call and gift, results from that. Hence, the goal of the Christian life is to be changed into the likeness or image of Christ (Rom. 8:30), and the process of Christian ministry is reflecting his glory (2 Cor. 3:18).
The price of Christian ministry is more than pityâ€”responding to a beggar we encounter on the road or seeing a suffering, needy individual and giving something (which usually costs us very little). This provides no lasting relationship with the suffering one. It is merely a desire to be a free from a guilty conscience. A Christina ministry means much more than feeling pity or being merciful to the poor who need our favor. Of course, mercy is higher than pity. Yet, when we act on the basis of mercy, we put ourselves in a higher position than the individual to whom we respond. In other words, we have a tendency of assuming that the destiny of the person is in our hand. The person is at our mercy for survival. In such a situation, the connotation of mercy is undeserved favor. If a bird is in my hand, it is under my mercy as I have the right to let it go or kill it. In such a ministry, the relationship is vertical. The giver is on the throne, the receiver on his knees.
Therefore, in this sense, Christian ministry is not the ministry of "mercy." In fact, the ministry of mercy belongs to only one person, Jesus Christ.
Finally, the price of Christian ministry is a total commitment. The driving force is compassion: ‘Tor Chrisf s love compels us" (2 Cor. 5:14). In the ministry of compassion, we identify the person. Christ said, "I have a compassion for this people… " (Matt. 15:32). Furthermore, we will not be afraid to serve and to give of ourselves to those to whom we minister, as Jesus did (Mark 10:45). The relationship is horizontal— it is companionship. It is sharing with a friend. It is walking and searching together. It is seeking together a solution to remove the constraints that hinder natural growth and development. This is not relief or rehabilitation, but long-term development, which requires a long-term commitment out of compassion.
Therefore, the goal of Christian ministry, particularly for Christian agencies, is to bring about lasting freedom to the whole person. Development requires more than feeling pity or attempting to be merciful to the needy. It is total commitment of love.
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