Why your church should consider starting a homeless ministry

February 17, 2017

As an associate and senior pastor, I have been blessed to serve two churches that developed ministries to the homeless and other needy in their communities. In both cases, these ministries began as God worked in the hearts of lay people, stirring them to start something that would meet practical needs. Pastors didn’t come up with the ideas for these ministries, nor did they have to push people to get involved. God simply moved his people to serve, and pastors came alongside these works and facilitated ministry where they could.

The Bible is clear about the church’s ethical call to alleviate suffering around us.  Proverbs 19:17 offers a powerful word to those who do: “Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD, and He will give a reward to the lender.”  The Minor Prophets repeatedly call God’s people to defend the weak and provide for the needs of the impoverished.  James 1:27 gets very specific, explaining that pure and undefiled religion alleviates the suffering of the poor and the widow.

These and other passages provide scriptural reasons for our churches to minister to the homeless and needy. These divine commands are the primary reasons we should do so. In my experience, I have seen the Lord powerfully use homeless ministry to change the churches I have served. I’m referring to an impact other than the difference it might make in the lives of financially needy people. Here are some of those unexpected blessings in starting a ministry to the homeless:

1. Perception in the community among those not needing the ministry

Whether it’s true or not, many churches that are downtown and have large physical plants or possess large memberships have a reputation in their communities of being “that rich church.”  Unfortunately, there are many who automatically think that “those people” in such churches are all about themselves.

However, doing homeless ministry in your community can help change these perceptions and attitudes. As people in your community who have zero need for such ministry see your church genuinely help those in need, their attitude toward your church can change. They may even be more personally open to the gospel.

While at my first church, I was speaking to a man who lived in a relatively affluent neighborhood when it came up that I was a pastor. I told him which church, and he mentioned that his son’s public school class had taken a trip to our church’s homeless ministry, and that he was impressed that our church did that. He had absolutely no need for the ministry, but a church that had often been considered as inward-focused by many in the community now had a loving reputation. In my current context, I was amazed at the positive perception of our conservative church by someone who couldn’t be further from us theologically—largely because of our community work.

2. A missional outlook in your church

We are often tempted to think that if we write a check to support missionaries, we have done our part in the Great Commission. Starting a homeless ministry to help those in the greatest financial need in your community helps counteract that false belief. As your church members serve the homeless, they begin to experientially understand that they are to be making disciples in the context in which God has placed them, now.

We frequently talk about how going on a short-term mission trip to another country got us “out of our comfort zone” and helped us grow in our love for others. Local ministry to the needy helps church members do that right where they live, and on a regular basis.  Being in real relationship and intentional friendship with members of our communities changes our understanding of the Great Commission. Your members will rejoice in knowing the names and stories of people walking the streets around your church. And it will help them think missionally all the time.

3. Evangelism and leadership training

In my current church, we don’t require our guests to be in a church service in order to receive food, clothing or anything else. During the services, we have multiple church members whose only role is to sit and converse with our guests. Their primary role is simply to build relationships with and pray for our guests. And in the context of those relationships, they have often had the opportunity to share the gospel.  This has become a powerful tool of on-the-job evangelism training. Those who have rarely evangelized are able to watch and learn as other believers share the gospel with our guests.

Not only that, but in both churches I have served, ministries to the homeless have become excellent forges for growth in discipleship and leadership. Leaders are developed as needs present themselves, and the Holy Spirit raises up people with unique passions and spiritual gifts to meet those needs.

4. Missions for those who cannot travel

There are many in our churches who would love to participate in short-term mission trips but are unable to travel because of financial constraints, schedule conflicts or problems with their own health or someone for whom they are responsible. One faithful saint in my current church told me that ministry to the homeless allows her to participate in missions, even though she is unable to leave our town because of the poor health of her husband.  We are called to Jerusalem, as well as the ends of the earth, and ministry to the homeless can help many church members awaken to the fact that they are engaged in the Great Commission.

5. Unity with other churches

In both churches that I have served, ministry to the homeless has become a rallying point for churches and ministries who love Christ and the gospel, but who come from different denominational and other backgrounds. These churches have collaborated to provide volunteers, food and other materials for homeless ministry. In such a polarized era, what better way to demonstrate that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:35) than to come together for the purpose of loving our communities?

By no means is this article meant to set up a legalistic rule requiring every church to have a particular type of ministry. Rather, the point is to share testimony of how I have seen the Lord in two different contexts use mercy ministries to change a church and its relationship to its community. Evangelism and discipleship are interconnected and feed into one another. As we reach out, speaking and living out the gospel, he grows us. And as we grow, we have greater desire and motivation to share the gospel. May God bless you as you seek to demonstrate his love in your community.

Matt Crawford

Matt Crawford serves on the staff of City Church Tallahassee as the pastor for the church’s East Campus. Matt also works for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention as a Cooperative Program Catalyst. He has served as an associate and senior pastor for two other churches, and he … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24