I am increasingly travelling among churches to advise them on setting up ministries to work with people who are poor or disadvantaged. I am encouraged how many churches have those who are poor on their agendas. The prophetic word that Simon Pettit preached in 1998 at the Newfrontiers leaders conference that it is an apostolic mandate to Remember the Poor (Gal 2:10) is certainly bearing fruit.
Ministry with the poor is not only about taking the love and compassion of Jesus to those in need but it is a powerful and effective way of winning favour with your local community (both people and authorities) and of growing your church.
As I share with church leaders some of the basic principles in setting up such ministries I frequently find that formation of a charity is high on their agenda. I invariably ask ‘Why?’. In this short series I will try to address the answer to that question and
• share how I view ministry with those who are poor as a ministry of the local church,
• consider how ‘social charities’ can be integrated effectively into the local church,
• suggest how such ministries can be managed in the context of your church and community.
At this point I need to make a legal disclaimer. I am not a lawyer and what I share in this series is my own thinking gleaned out of experience in my own church, CCK in Brighton, and from observations I have made in visiting other Newfrontiers churches. I strongly recommend employing specialist charity lawyers to set up any charity or going through an organisation such as Stewardship. It is vital that you build on a good foundation and to try to do this ‘on the cheap’ may cause you difficulty at a later stage. My observations here are to help you ask relevant questions, not to provide all the answers.
A final point in this introduction is that what I am sharing applies primarily to the UK. However, I hope that some of my thinking may be helpful in a wider context.
Is a charity helpful?
When working with people who are poor or disadvantaged ‘We need a charity’ is an understandable reaction. However, the Bible teaches that we should care for those in need as an integral part of our church life, not a peripheral ‘charitable’ activity, whether such people are within the fellowship of believers (e.g. Acts 4:32-35; Gal 2:10; 6:10) or are those who are ‘not yet’ believers (Is 61:1-3). Forming a separate charity can give the ministry a different status from the other ministries in the church.
So why not just make this another ministry of the church? Church life includes serving the children, supporting families, training leaders etc. We would not even consider creating a separate charity for these ministries since they fall within the ‘normal’ life of the church. So, with respect to setting up a separate charity, there is no logic in treating ministry with poor and disadvantaged people in a different way from any other ministry. There has to be a good strategic reason if a charity is to be set up. We will consider this next time.