As believers, we are called to share the gospel first, and help others second.
In my early twenties, I had the privilege of chairing the steering committee that established a crisis pregnancy center in my city. Don't be too impressed-no one else wanted the job!
We had a great group of people who had a heart for the unborn. Our committee consisted of physicians, young moms, business executives, and two area pastors. Although diverse, the group was unified by our mission to rescue the helpless. We remained unified until the day the decision was made that our center was not going to focus primarily on rescuing the unborn, but our first priority would be sharing the gospel with women in need.
At the heart of Christianity is the gospel of the cross (1 Corinthians 15:1–5; Mark 1:14–15; Acts 13:32, 38). There is debate among Christians about this topic. One popular writer recently stated, "Most Christians have no idea what the gospel really is." He then proceeded to enlighten readers to his version of "the gospel." He contended the church has ignored the "true gospel," which is ridding the world of social injustice, poverty, racism, and the ills of mankind.
The reality of the gospel compels us to tackle these mercy ministries, but we must never replace sharing the gospel of the kingdom with the kingdom service of the gospel.
Replacing the Gospel
There is a danger when focusing on mercy ministries—the tendency to neglect the purpose of ministering to the outcast and afflicted by fixating on physical needs while leaving out the message of the cross (Romans 5:8–10). In living out the gospel, we must always remember that the ultimate concern when ministering to the needy is their salvation.
Although "Christian ministry" can occur without vocally presenting the gospel every time we reach out to someone, I don't believe evangelism can occur without presenting the gospel vocally (or in written form). We must not confuse mercy ministry with evangelism. If we do not present the gospel in our acts of service we may be doing "works of compassion," but that is not evangelism.
The term "evangelism" is derived from the Greek term euaggelizo—"to announce good news, especially the gospel: declare, preach the gospel." In other words, evangelism requires someone to speak or convey the "good news" or the message of the gospel.
Social ministry is not "evangelistic" ministry unless the gospel message is the foundation and purpose. Filling empty stomachs alone is not fulfilling Jesus' commission. Meeting physical needs is a demonstration of God's merciful character. But those living in darkness need the light of the gospel more than anything else.
Yes, we must take a stand against social injustices. Yes, we are to feed the hungry, to rescue those who are being led to slaughter, to care for the orphan and the widow—but as a means of evangelism as well as mercy. Meeting physical needs are temporary solutions; giving the gospel message is of eternal importance. Mercy ministries are an outflow of the gospel, if the cross is central.
The Rest of the Story
By the way, although some said the center wouldn't be able to survive financially when high-level supporters pulled out because of our decision to share the gospel with every client, we survived! Not only that, more than 1,400 babies have been rescued from abortion and 1,800 people have placed their faith in Jesus—the power of the gospel at work!
What avenues is God providing for you today to share the gospel? How is the message of the cross motivating you to reach out to others?