Compassion -- the image of Christ

Missionary ministry that reflects Christ

"The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion." -- Psalm 116:5

Compassion. What a wonderful word to describe Jesus! Several times, the Gospels report that Jesus was "moved with compassion." Gospel writers also wrote about Jesus weeping over Lazarus' death (John 11:35) as well as over the waywardness of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).

Jesus was "moved in His spirit" by a weeping woman (John 11:33). He showed compassion by feeding hungry people (Mark 8:2-3). He cared about lost people, saying to repentant ones, "Your sins be forgiven" (Luke 5:20). When Jesus encountered hurting people, He acted in compassionate ways. Clearly, compassion is a fundamental quality of Jesus' earthly life.

What does that mean for us? Well, if we are to carry out Jesus' Great Commission in a Christ-like manner, our cross-cultural missionary efforts must overflow with compassion. That does not mean simply doing stuff labeled "compassionate ministries." Sadly, we can actually run such programs without being very compassionate. As incredible as it may seem, rookie missionaries sometimes bomb out because they do not exude the tenderness, mercy, and kindness we call "compassion."

For missionaries, compassion must be more than a feel-good buzzword. A century ago Teddy Roosevelt reportedly said, "Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care." That thought should shape the trajectory of world evangelism efforts even though Roosevelt was not explicitly addressing his words to missionaries. In a time when trash-talking seems the norm, global missionary work must radiate something entirely different.

Not long ago, the sarcastic sentence "I think you have mistaken me for someone who cares" became a popular one-liner. The cold insincerity of that remark reminds us that compassion must be more than an external act that missionaries put on when it seems needed. If global missionaries would genuinely imitate Christ, they must open their hearts to Him and allow His compassion to flow through them.

"When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate." -- Exodus 22:27

Discussion questions

  1. How would you describe the significance of compassion in the life of Jesus as it is portrayed in the Gospels? What did Jesus do that causes people to say He demonstrated compassion in His interactions with people?
  2. Why might it be accurate to say that compassion is an essential quality for global missionaries to possess? How might a lack of compassion hinder cross-cultural missionary efforts?
  3. It has been said that compassion must be more than an external act that missionaries put on when it's needed. How would you describe what it means for missionaries to open their hearts to Christ and allow His compassion to flow through them?
  4. How might a missionary's ability to demonstrate compassion be shaped or impacted by cultural and/or language differences?
  5. How can a missionary organization or church support and cultivate compassion in its missionaries? Are there any practices missionaries should implement to help develop this quality?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on Christlike attitudes and actions that should be present in cross-cultural missionary service is one of a dozen articles in the "Missionary ministry that reflects Christ" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine.

Helping those in need: Discretionary compassion

"Jesus had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" -- Matthew 9:36

"'Christianity,' said John Wesley, 'is essentially a social religion . . . To turn it into a solitary one is indeed to destroy it.'. . .

"(Wesley's revival movement) pioneered the way for many social changes. The relief of the poor, the prison visitation, the care of the aged and sick, and the education of the illiterate all pointed the way to what could be done. Wesley even ran a medical service for the sick and a loan system for needy Methodists!"

    -- T. Crichton Mitchell in Meet Mr. Wesley

Compassionate Ministries inserts for Sunday bulletins (worship folders)

Need missions bulletin board ideas?

Our local church uses legal-size paper (8 1/2 by 14 inches) for Sunday morning worship bulletins or folders. Those sheets are folded to make three panels 8 1/2 by 4 5/8 inches.

Using materials from the global office of Nazarene Missions International, I created a series of missions informational inserts to fit into those bulletins. These could also be used as missions posters or even as starting points for missions bulletin boards.

Click on any of the images to open a full-sized PDF of that insert.

Compassionate Ministries

half-page of
information on hunger and poerty     encouragement to support Nazarene
Compassionate Ministries

Can someone help the poor too much?

Can trying to help wind up hurting?

by Wayne Stark

In this article, former Love Link director and long-time urban pastor Wayne Stark shares his philosophy of urban or inner-city ministry.

If compassionate ministry is to reach its potential, it must be done holistically. If a particular organization is going it alone, it needs to develop a range of holistic ministries. This, of course, can be very difficult for smaller ministry programs. If there are several ministry programs in a particular locale, they should learn to work together, each one emphasizing different aspects of ministry and yet all complementing each other so that the net result of their working together is a holistic ministry. Let me briefly outline my view of compassionate ministry. (Parenthetically, I often wonder if the name should more appropriately be ministries of compassion rather than compassionate ministry.)

Some years ago, Marvin Olasky wrote a book titled Renewing American Compassion. Although writing with a political rather than a religious agenda, Olasky draws a striking contrast between the compassionate ministries of early America and those of today.

During America's earlier years, Christian compassionate ministry was quite discretionary. The focus was on helping those who could not help themselves. Able-bodied men were banned from the program -- even the drunkards. They went to extremes in their selectivity and really failed to a compassionate understanding of the terrible helplessness from which addicts often suffer. Still, it's clear that exercising discretion in compassionate ministry has a historical basis and Biblical foundations.

Housing for the homeless seems to be on the minds of many. More than once, I've heard someone say, "I wish I had a building large enough to house all of the homeless".

I cringe when I hear such comments. I've spent a lot of time working in chemical dependency programs. In those programs, I often found myself saying to parents: "If your addict son is 25 years old, living at home, eating your food, expecting you to do his laundry and other things, then kick him out." Far too many shelters enable the addicts in ways that hurt rather than help them.

Handing out food and clothing without discretion may worsen things by allowing addicts to focus most of their attention and resources on their addictive practices. There are certainly deserving people who really need help. The question is: How much do we follow the principle that we first feed the person who is hungry so that he/she will listen to our message of hope for salvation and a new life in Christ?

Many would emphasize job training and assisting the needy in finding employment. The truth is that many of the needy we work with already have job skills. Some are very highly trained. They can get one job after another, but cannot stay employed because of their addictions.

Working with children and teens is challenging and exciting. But working with the whole family is very important if the children are to be permanently helped. The other day, my wife and I were thinking back over our years in ministry. We noted that the inner city children we had seen grow up and became stable Christians with Christian families were those who had been adopted into Christian families in one way or another. We recalled two situations in which boys from the inner city were accepted into Christian families and wound up marrying daughters from those families.

The discretionary compassionate ministry of earlier years pretty well faded away as the government implemented its own welfare system. Unfortunately, that governmental system made some serious mistakes. In recent years, it has moved to becoming more discretionary.

Within the last few years, there has been a renewal of interest within the Church concerning compassionate ministry. This interest continues to grow. In some ways, however, we are still learning how to do discretionary compassionate ministry well.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." -- Matthew 25:40

It does pay!

David had a serious problem with alcohol. He was drinking himself to death. Though he wouldn't come to church services, he would frequently show up for a meal (Sometimes we become impatient with those who come only for the food). I kept encouraging him to try our services.

One day David asked if he could get into our sober-living program. We took him in, and he has done great. He has been faithful to attend church and has been helping with work around the house and with the Love Link ministry, a Nazarene Compassionate Ministry center. He has become committed to the reading of God's Word. David is a very different person from what he was a few months ago. It started with a meal. Yes, the meals do pay off.

    -- Wayne Stark

"Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate." -- Joel 2:13

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