All three of the above activities are done out of the godly emotion of compassion—it is loving mercy. Rather than being unavailable or unapproachable, or never crossing paths with people in need, or simply not noticing the needs of others, or not caring—meeting an immediate need is a merciful response. These actions are ways we care for people in need, and that is a good thing. If we think of all of the suffering that exists in this world, it would be easiest to simply close our eyes and ignore it. Having no response or being ignorant, unintentionally or intentionally, to the painful plight of others is tragic. We need to applaud those who feel compassion for the suffering of others and act on it. Following the example of Jesus, the Christian community should not “pass by on the other side of the road,” but stop and get involved in the midst of human need (Luke 10:25-37).
An inappropriate response can be judging people in need. We see people’s predicaments and write the people off because we see them as lazy, foolish, or having bad character. While we may need to deal with the issues and choices of someone whom we are helping, it needs to be driven by a spirit of compassion and love, rather than by a spirit of condemnation. A second inappropriate response can be prejudice. We see a person’s clothes, personal style, habits, or race, and we make negative assumptions about them without getting to know them. Instead, we need to see all people as image bearers of God who have worth and dignity.
Leading a church in holistic, developmental ministry will include an intentional process of creating a compassionate people through teaching, exposure, and experience. We need to involve our youth and adults in activities and settings where they see and participate in serving. The relief activities we have been discussing are some of the ways a church builds the compassion of its members. In fact, most of the activities where children are engaged will likely be more relief focused.