In Ministry, we must approach people with hearts of compassion and Christ-like service. Proclamation without communication is of little value. In communication, people seem to want to listen to whatever you have to say–if you love them and show it. Although the compassion and service of Jesus were an expression of genuine love, His compassion and service enhanced His communications. Jesus served others because He loved them–He showed compassion by helping the people and their families. Jesus was “Lord of Lords,” but, because of His love, He was also the “Servant of Servants” (Mark 10:45). People came from the synagogue to Peter’s house and saw Jesus heal Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (1:29-31). In response, people gathered at the door, filled the house, and pressed upon him. They came by the thousands to hear him, and many believed (Mk. 6:30-44).
Jesus proved his compassion by helping those with physical struggles and spiritual warfare. Mark says, “And when evening had come, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was (1:32-34). Mark adds, “And a leper came to Him, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying to Him, ‘If You are willing, You can make me clean.’ And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand, and touched him, and said to him, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed” (1:40-42).
Jesus feels for us. The Bible says: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus’ compassion was demonstrated when he saw the grief of his friends Mary and Martha over the death of their brother, Lazarus. Although he knew he would raise Lazarus, Jesus cried over the pain Mary and Martha felt. John simply says, “Jesus wept” (Jn. 11:35). Paul charges that we must show compassion. He said to Timothy, “And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged” (2Tim. 2:24).
The life, teachings, deeds, and death of Christ were all therapeutic–aimed at meeting the needs of people. Luke says, “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him” ( Acts 10:38).
Nothing that Jesus did or said was without relevance to the needs of people. The Sermon on the Mount was preached to rescue his disciples from the leaven of the Pharisees. He demonstrated that the righteousness of kingdom people must surpass that of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20). His saying about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was to correct the irrational and absurd attribution of his miracles to the prince of demons (Mt. 12:22-32). His parables about the prodigal son, the lost coin, and the wandering sheep were told to answer his critics and show that his mission is to seek sinners (Lk. 15). You name what Jesus did or what he said–it was all for the purpose of meeting people’s needs.
As preachers, we should begin our preparation for every sermon with the question, “What do these people need me to do for them this week?” As we plan our sermons, we should always ask three questions: “What do I want them to do in response to this sermon?” “What must they know in order to do this?” “What do they have to feel in order to be motivated to do it?” Focus is always on the people–their needs, their thoughts, and their feelings. It is designed to meet their needs and change their lives–truly to give them the more abundant life.
The importance of being people-centered in our ministry is shown by research concerning church growth. The research done by Flavil Yeakley and many others church growth experts shows that compassionate, need-oriented preaching is more important than other factors some consider so important. Surprisingly Yeakley found that preaching is vitally involved in church growth (Why Churches Grow). His research also showed that “the age of the preacher was not a significant factor” in distinguishing the high, medium, and low net growth-rate churches. Yeakley says, “In fact, what little statistical difference there was favored the older rather than the younger preacher.” Even educational level “did not turn out to be statistically significant.” (45). Compassionate service is what counts.
What did Yeakley and other researchers in church growth find to be important? They found two characteristics of the preacher and his preaching to be significant: the preacher’s “view of evangelism” and “style of preaching” (46). The model of evangelism that proved to be characteristic in high-growth-rate congregations (i.e., the non-manipulative dialogue) involves listening and sensitivity to the feelings and needs of people (46). The preaching style he found effective in high-growth-rate churches was defined as “being basically positive and aimed primarily at the needs of people who are already members of the church in order to provide encouragement, inspiration, and instruction” (47). Church growth research simply confirms what Jesus demonstrated in his ministry–that compassionate service to mankind is vital to successful Christian ministry. Consequently, it is obvious that ministerial education should focus primarily on how to study the Bible, how to make God’s intended application to human needs, and how to convince the people that we care about them.
Although preaching has been thought to be relatively ineffective in evangelism and personal evangelism thought to be more effective, Yeakley’s survey discovered that people see preaching as personal evangelism. His respondents rated it “as being more personal than any other method of evangelism with the single exception of a personal encounter of the conversational variety” (50). Yeakley quotes Donald McGavran, one of the nation’s best-known writers in the church growth field, as saying, “. . . the way to build a strong church is to find the hurt in the community and heal it” (105). In my reading, I find that the best-known homiliticians, past and present, urge preachers to be aware of our audiences and to preach to meet the needs of people.
The power of compassion and service is obvious. As I watched the funerals of Princess Diana, “the people’s princess,” and “Mother Theresa” and observed the appeal they had to millions all over the world, I asked myself, “What is the meaning of this?” I realized that people were drawn to them because they reached out to “the people,” the common people, and cared about individuals. I realized that the masses are looking for an oasis in the desert. Yes, people are looking for Carson McCuller’s “warm, well-lighted place” in the middle of Scott Fitzgerald”s “valley of ashes” or T. S. Elliott’s “wasteland.” Only Jesus provides this refuge; He is our Ebenezer! Jesus is the prophet, priest, and king for which men have always searched. Christ in us is the hope of the world–our hope and their hope. His Spirit is the “Living Water” that will satisfy the thirst of humanity. Let Christ be your message. Let your preaching be accompanied by a Christian life that proves that He is real and his promises do come true.
William T. (Bill) Lambert, EdD
Professor Emeritus – New Testament Literature and Interpretation
Searcy, AR 72149-0001