Mercy Ministry: Church or World?

In 2006, Modern Reformation Magazine provided two articles from a series entitled Mercy Ministries: Two Perspectives. The articles were written by William H. Smith and Randy Nabors. I’ve numbered them I and II, respectively, and linked them below with selective quotes and bullet points.

In article I, Smith argues that the mercy ministry of the church is primary to its members. He explains that the church’s service is to one another in word and sacrament rather than serving the world in word and deed.

In article II, Nabors argues that the church needs to focus outside of its walls to show the world its good deeds in the name of Christ. He explains that this is the Christian faith lived out in the world.

I. Kyrie Eleison by William H. Smith

What I am willing to take my life into my hands to question is the contention that both Word (proclamation of the gospel) and deed (deeds of mercy done to and for nonbelievers) are the mission of the church and necessary to give a full and credible vindication of its message. Mercy ministry is becoming a virtual fourth mark of the church-the pure preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, the faithful exercise of discipline-and something like a housing assistance program, a food bank, a jobs training program, or a homeless shelter.

  • Christians sharing possessions
  • Deacons for Christian community
  • Especially to household of faith
  • Lay down life for brothers
  • Mission to make disciples

II. For Goodness Sake, Do Something! by Randy Nabors

I would submit that such negative arguments spring from an undeveloped theology of the church, a defective theology of missions, and the absence of a theology of mercy. We are called to be a new community, to be a body of believers. We are called to help the widows in our midst (1 Tim. 5:3-16); we are given the example of sharing with other congregations who face hard times (I Tim. 6:18); and pastors are instructed to “command” those who are rich in this world to be rich in good deeds. We are given the model in Acts 6 of an ethnic and pragmatic solution to a mercy need within and by the local congregation. We see the community of Israel, as a nation, condemned for a hypocritical practice of religion by not sharing their food with the hungry (Isa. 58). How can we be seen as a “city”(Matt. 5:14-16) if we do not do good works corporately? Congregations are designed by God to be public entities that people see, and unfortunately many of our congregations are “cities” which are seen to do nothing but for themselves.

  • Tutoring programs
  • Job partnership programs
  • Prison reentry programs
  • HIV/AIDS care
  • Hospice care

Neither author is arguing to neglect one group for the other. Both are concerned with the gospel, the church and the world. Each just sees a different prescription as how the Christian life and focus should look.

I lean towards agreeing with Smith in article I as he seems to make a stronger biblical case. These are important considerations and conversations that can be very edifying for those on both sides.

Where do you stand and why?

Let's connect!

tagged as in Church Issues,Culture,morality

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt Svoboda May 27, 2010 at 12:46 pm


I’m not the sharpest guy in the world, I get that, but I will share my two cents anyhow…

Scripture seems to clearly teach that we should “take care of our own.” Nothing portrays the Trinity better than the church living in true community as seen in Acts 2:42-47.

Yet, if we are not doing A LOT of active mercy ministries to the World as well we are living in direct disobedience to the Word. Tim Keller is the best guy to go to on this: look at the Good Samaritan! The Good Samaritan ends with “go, and do likewise.” We MUST be just as active in World-Mercy ministries as we are with the Church. Yet, we must first, take care of our own.

IMHO, this isn’t a question of “which is more important.” Both are of great importance and I think we miss the point when we try to pit them against one another.

We have to take care of our own and display mercy towards the world. It seems simple! 🙂

2 Mark May 27, 2010 at 12:58 pm


Good points. There can be a danger of going to far to one side or the other, IMO.

One thing though that stood out. You said

Yet, if we are not doing A LOT of active mercy ministries to the World as well we are living in direct disobedience to the Word.

If you have time, how would you flesh that out in the realm of direct disobedience, etc.? “A LOT” may mean different things to different people.

I agree that the question is really, “Which is more important?” But the “or” question makes a better headline. 🙂

3 Matt Svoboda May 27, 2010 at 2:24 pm


By “a lot” I simply mean that it should be an active part of what the church does. It should not be something they do every once in awhile when it is convenient. Mercy ministry to the World should be an active, intentional part of what each church does.

It is not something of “secondary importance.” Preaching, Ordinances, Mercy Ministry(Church&World), Prayer, Scripture Reading, Evangelism, etc. are ALL of first importance in church life.

4 Eddie Exposito May 28, 2010 at 10:00 am

If a church spends thousands of dollars each month on foreign missionary support while their own people are hurting and in need, something is amiss.
If a church feeds the disadvantaged through inner-city mission lines and yet has their own families hungry and needing assistance, things have become skewed.
What happens today is that the benevolence fund is not active and graceful, it has become stagnant and conditional and this to our shame. Many church members must ‘prove’ themselves worthy of help and are embarrassed by over-burdened processes within the fellowship that while perhaps done in the name of stewardship, have the air of audacity.

5 Victoria May 28, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I have to agree with you Mark.
I am convinced that the world understands the truth of the Gospel as they see this verse being worked out among Believers.
John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:35
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)

6 Mark May 29, 2010 at 11:24 am

Eddie, I think you’ve hit on an issue. A church body can become so inwardly focused it forgets that there is a world outside in which we live. However, to further unpack what you’re saying I’d add that a church body can also become so outwardly focused that it forgets about its own.

I wonder if that is a popular problem today?

I suppose if a church is inwardly focused and the congregation is being equipped with the gospel that there will be an outward flow of ministering to others in their lives.

7 Bobby Capps May 29, 2010 at 11:47 am

I see it like this: Take care of your own so they can take care of the world. Strengthen one another with the word and sound doctrine, care for each other practically, but for the express purpose of mission.

Consider Jesus, he had the twelve and the followers, he cared for them taught them stayed with them. But the whole time they were on mission together caring for the world he came to save.

I truly believe if the budget and ministers (teachers, leaders, workers, etc) of a church are only serving the members it is not a church in the NT sense, it is a religious club in the western “Christian” sense.


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