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Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road Paperback – July 1, 1997
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About the Author
Timothy Keller is the founder and senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Reason for God and The Prodigal God. He has also mentored young urban church planters and pastors in New York and other cities through Redeemer City to City, which has helped launch over 200 churches in 35 global cities to date.
Sean Runnette, a multiple "AudioFile" Earphones Award winner, has produced several Audie Award winning audiobooks and has also narrated works by John Steinbeck and Richard P. Feynman. Of his performance of "The Courage to be Free", "AudioFile" Magazine wrote "Runnette s tender approach to every sentence and paragraph helps the author s wisdom glow. Along with the understated power of the author s writing, Runnette s performance makes this one of the most arresting and thought-provoking audiobooks available today." He is a member of the American Repertory Theater company and has toured internationally with Mabou Mines, an avant-garde theater company. Sean's television and film appearances include "Two If by Sea", "Copland", "Sex and the City", "Law & Order", "Third Watch." --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Using the metaphor of a garden in part two, Keller moves to the practical concerns of just how ministries of mercy can be instituted in the church. He notes that like soil, the congregation must be prepared for compassion ministry through teaching what scripture says about the subject. Through such teaching individuals will surface whose hearts and gifts are so oriented. The author describes the formulation of the vision for such a ministry, and how to achieve consensus in the congregation on this vision and to mobilize its expression.
The careful management of compassion ministry is especially important if it is to be maintained consistently. Christian volunteers are subject to burn out, and other physical and economic resources are subject to similar exhaustion if not wisely used. Keller offers many useful suggestions about how to integrate church activities with other churches, parachurch and secular organizations to maximize impact. Finally, he discusses how a ministry of mercy impacts and may dictate how church growth is managed.
As with many arguments for compassion ministry based on some interpretation of the Kingdom of God statements of Jesus, there are questions of direct applicability to the church today. Keller may be guilty of some of this misapplication, but his destination is correct even if his starting point and route are questionable. One example of debatable interpretation is the use of the Good Samaritan parable itself. Jesus was speaking to an opponent (a scribe) seeking to trip Him. Jesus was describing the error of an insular Judaism (as also seen in Jonah), not defining any specific ministry direction for Israel or Christianity. The real lesson to be drawn from the parable is that no one (i.e. the elect Israel or the believer) is deserving of God's grace, but having received it must express it to others - even perceived enemies. The details of this expression of grace (i.e. the physical mercy) are incidental. However, the parable is entirely applicable to the church as it describes a people who are inward directed and unconcerned about the lost in any meaningful way.
The real problem with theological justification of corporate compassion ministry is that there is really no direct scriptural evidence for such ministry to the lost. All examples of compassion ministries are toward the believing churches themselves. In fact the NT is rather explicit in not addressing the social issues of the day except in terms of individual (not corporate) behavior. This is not to say that social concerns are not affected by the genuine faith of individuals, just that they are not the target. When the human heart is made new, then it can accept instructions for slaves to obey masters wholeheartedly (Eph 6:5-6), and for masters to treat slaves as brothers (Philemon), and countless other attitudes and behaviors in a total and revolutionary contradiction to the wisdom of the world. The details of these behaviors are not the subject of commandment, per se, but it is the renewed mind that produces them.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is on Principles, covering the call, character, and motivation for mercy, and finding balance in lifestyle, focus, and in word and deed. Unlike some other books promoting reaching out to the poor, the author does not denounce or lay guilt on the wealthy or those who take good care of their families. Rather he focuses on the heart and the need to be rich in good deeds. Part two is about Practice: Getting Started, Preparing the Church, Mobilizing the Church, Expanding your Vision, Managing your Ministry, Mercy Ministry and Church Growth, and Meeting Needs.
The second half of the book is particularly helpful. There are many resources and articles calling Christians to show mercy to others, but there are far fewer resources that talk about the details of how to make that happen in a way that is effective, reproducible, and scalable. Churches which are currently inwardly focused and do little for the community will find this book a great resource to get started in reaching out. There are some great suggestions in the book for how to assess the top needs of the community, empowering people for grass-roots efforts as well as having some kind of formal centralized effort. Keller also encourages the development of 'mission groups' (called missional communities by some) which have a main focus on outreach and mission. To be successful church leaders will need to be patient, cast a clear vision, and do a great job of encouraging and equipping volunteers for service according to their gifts and passions.
Overall, Ministries of Mercy is well written, balanced, insightful, down-to-earth, and recommended for churches and individuals ready to meet both spiritual and physical needs of those in their community.