Mercy Ministries Need Theology, Too

by   |   amsmiley@bju.edu   |  
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Experiences of a zealous college graduate

When I finished undergrad, I took a job working at a group home for adolescent girls who had been rescued out of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is a horrific and heartbreaking thing I learned about during a project in college. It happens in almost every neighborhood across America, and many different organizations are seeking to fight for those who are victimized. After I spent ten months living and working in this group home, I left burnt out, disillusioned and with an overwhelming sense of failure. I don’t have any amazing stories to tell about how lives were changed dramatically by the Gospel. I can’t give you reports on how the ministry has helped hundreds of girls escape terrible situations. I’m sure it sounds like it was a huge failure, and I feel that way about it a lot as well. However, with God, nothing is wasted.

​The need for Christians and churches to bring the Gospel to these women (and men, too) is very real. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to work with this population again. God used my first experience to teach me so much and, in turn, led me to Seminary.

Whose fault was it, really?

I have yet to mention that when I decided to leave that ministry, it meant the home would need to close. At the time I was one of two house moms on staff. The girls were placed elsewhere or sent back to their homes. This decision was one of the hardest I’ve ever made in my life, but I came to the conclusion through counsel and prayer. As I spent the next year simply making lattes and trying to process what had happened, the Lord graciously brought me to some conclusions. Those conclusions can be divided into both internal and external categories.

First, I’ll explain what I meant by “internal.” When I graduated college, I thought I was ready to turn the world upside down by jumping into ministry. However, I have come to realize that my own personal walk with Jesus and my personal foundation in theology was on the shallow side at best. It’s not that I never prayed or read my Bible, but my understanding of the Word and walk with God was not my source of life at that time.

There were also external circumstances which contributed to the failure. As you can imagine, working with people who have been severely traumatized is taxing. In hindsight, a lack of practical theology rooted in a biblical and systematic theology caused problems on an organizational and philosophical level. One of my most trusted mentors made a comment to me about this while I was still working at the home. I brushed it off at first, thinking that I had finally found people who were passionate about helping the suffering, and if we just all believed in Jesus, nothing else really mattered. Even if they weren’t as “theological” as my previous pastors and professors in Bible college, it wasn’t a big deal. I can see now that this added to the strain and difficulty I experienced while serving at the home.

I ended up at BJU Seminary.

It’s a humbling experience to go back and say “you were right,” but if we never have to say it, we aren’t growing. My mentor graciously and patiently helped me to see that philosophy and practical theology must come from a deep understanding of the Bible. This is especially true when working with the hardest cases. So many organizations and churches seek to help the poor and needy and follow our Savior’s example. However, in order for this ministry to be sustainable and God-honoring, it must be deeply rooted in truth.

I must give a caveat to avoid misunderstanding. I believe that God is sovereign over the fruits and successes of our ministry. We could work for years to come up with the perfect strategies based on what we find in the Bible and never see anyone come to Christ and their lives turned completely around. That would be part of His sovereign plan. However, we should seek to minister out of a deep understanding of who God is and what His plans for His image bearers are.

Through attending Seminary, I began to see specific theology and truth apply in retrospect to my experiences. The Gospel must be the center of ministry and helping people know Jesus Christ is the ultimate goal. Caring for the physical needs of the suffering isn’t just a liberal concept, but Jesus Himself authenticated His ministry as the Messiah through feeding the hungry and healing the sick. He didn’t exclude the spiritual, but He gained their attention and trust through His care. The Bible has the answers for all of life’s problems, and Jesus is the true Healer of our hurts. Each and every person is made in the image of God, and true value comes from this. These truths and many others need to be the foundation for which the Lord’s work is built on.

My own personal view of God and understanding has grown more than it has in any other time of my life. God has been working on those “internal factors.” Through His help, I can look back on my “failed” attempts to serve at the home and realize my lack of dependence on Him for ministry. His love for me is greater than my failures, and He’s used them to show me my need to abide in the Vine in order to truly do His will. He has graciously allowed me to study under some of the most passionate professors I’ve ever had and allowed my understanding of the Bible to grow in tremendous ways. God has greatly used my time in Seminary to change and grow me. I look forward to taking the tools I now have to bring the Gospel to the hurting and bring glory to His name.

 

This post was originally published on the CGO blog as “A Need that Makes My Heart Bleed.”

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