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Developmental Ministry

Why do we need to address the transition to developmental ministry? We realize in responding to a need, it is usually easiest to give resources that meet that immediate need. We also realize that it is easier to develop a program such as a food pantry or clothing closet rather than a development activity that addresses the “why” of the need. For example:

  • A family stops by the church and says they are going to be evicted if they don’t immediately pay $200 dollars; we write a check to the landlord and send them on their way.
  • We know that some of the families in schools near us are low on food, so we start a Friday backpack program that provides nutritious food for the weekend.
  • As we drive by the person standing on the corner with a sign saying, “Homeless and hungry, please help. God bless,” we give a dollar.

These merciful acts bring a good feeling, are fairly simple to do, and respond to the need. But they do not get to the root of the problem.

Start with showing mercy by providing relief

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.

Moving from relief (mercy) to developmental ministry (justice)

A church can begin this process of moving from relief to development by exploring how existing relief connections and programs might be more developmental or lead to developmental relationships. This begins by maximizing potential relationships that can be developed in relief settings. Taking the time to get to know the people you are helping is the first step in getting beyond the handouts, which may require you to change some of the ways that you do mercy. When a family asks for assistance, it is appropriate to begin with a time of sincerely connecting and caring. In a non-interrogation style, get a good feel for their story, who they are, and what they have done in life. Make sure they know this is not part of assessment or judgment, but simply showing that you care about who they are. When appropriate, share parts of your life and any part of your story that you might feel would be important to share with them. This shows you want to build a relationship with them.

By building those relationships, you invest in people and build trust. Once trust has been established, you can ask permission to begin exploring what it is that has brought them into the situation that led them to ask for help and whether they would like help in working toward a more permanent solution. This is a critical juncture where you place the responsibility for change in their hands and become allies in the process. At the same time, you need to say that you are ready to make a commitment to this process and will be there for them. As you explore their lives and hear their stories, realize that they might be sharing information that may be both embarrassing and sensitive. Communicate that the information will be held confidentially. As you move into a possible course of action, try to be as specific as possible about who is going to do what.

A second way to move from relief to development is to create a program/ministry that is developmental. We are simply going to list and briefly describe some of the programs that have been developed in both churches and ministries, with the links provided on page 30:

  • Circles USA has proven to be a very successful model for helping individuals and families help themselves. It is an 18-month commitment where a number of “leaders” (those who desire to make a life change) are supported by “allies” who develop relationships and identify where the leaders would like to go in life. The weekly meetings include a meal and a presentation or meetings of leaders and allies.
  • Kids Hope USA is an in-school tutoring program that places volunteers in classrooms for one-on-one interactions with students in elementary grades. Tutors make a one year, one hour per week commitment. Since most Kids Hope programs are in public schools, there are some restrictions on religious activities in school, but many of the relationships spill over to non-school settings where faith can be appropriately and openly shared.
  • Jobs for Life [JfL] describes their mission as “training, equipping, and connecting churches, ministries, and businesses in communities all over the world.” JfL helps prepare men and women for meaningful work through honest relationships, mentoring, work-force development training, and an ongoing community of support.
  • Housing is a major component in community and individual development. Having properties that families can call home, whether owned or rented, is an important piece of building flourishing communities and people. Sustainable housing anchors a family into a community and stabilizes other areas of life, such as schools and jobs.
  • Budget counseling is developmental in the sense that it helps people to set a realistic budget and helps them live within that budget. This helps people develop the financial skills required to live within their means and plan for long-term financial needs. Many churches have utilized Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace.
  • Family/individual counseling is the involvement in someone’s life that helps them identify what they desire in life and make decisions that support that direction. While this may occasionally require professional skill levels, many caring and discerning people can help families tremendously. Appendix A in the back of this booklet may also prove helpful in counseling. Here also we can take advantage of sharing spiritual wisdom, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, the example of Christ, and power of Scripture.

A third way to move from relief to development is to look at how individuals are empowered by being involved in broader community development. When we get neighbors working together to care for one another and improve their neighborhood, they are empowered to make a difference. This is especially viable when a church commits itself to the place or parish in which it exists. By being involved, partnering with community organizations or neighborhood associations, the church joins others as a community connector and a place where the community comfortably gathers.

Points to Ponder


Take a few moments to consider the programs at your ministry. Can they be made more developmental?

What are some new programs that you could start? Consider the list, but add some of your own as well.

Pick what you consider to be the strongest options above, maybe two or three. Now, write how you can actively make that happen.
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