I had the opportunity last week to spend several days in eastern Kentucky alongside disaster relief volunteers who were providing help, hope and healing following historic flooding in thirteen counties. I saw families who had lost everything, literally everything except the clothes on their backs. Homes were washed down river, cars destroyed, personal possessions lost, and everything left behind covered in mud. Flood insurance is almost non-existent, and families are overwhelmed and uncertain what to do next. The question was raised in a discussion with someone who had come to help, “are we here to help them recover from the flood or share the gospel?” The answer is Yes!
Caring for the needs of others is not an option for Christ followers. Jesus demonstrated this by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out demons and raising the dead. If we are going to identify with Him, then we too, must love our neighbors and help those in need.
However, preaching the gospel is not an option either. Jesus said I was sent to preach the kingdom of God to others. We too, have an obligation to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). Furthermore, those who are lost can’t believe and call upon Christ to be saved unless they hear the gospel preached (Romans 10:14).
So, which was more important to Jesus, caring for the needs of others or preaching the gospel? I don’t know that he had a preference. We find that Jesus preached and cared for others everywhere he went. Every time Jesus sent out the disciples, He commanded them to take care of the needy as they preached the gospel.
We understand from scripture that after Jesus’ return to heaven, the disciples followed His example of simultaneously preaching and caring for others. We observe in the life of Jesus and the disciples, that caring for hurting people provides opportunities for preaching the gospel. Jesus didn’t send some of us to preach and others to do disaster relief or community service.
Helping mud out a flooded home is complimentary to sharing the gospel. Blending the feeding of a family in a shelter with telling them about Jesus is God-honoring. Providing a place to shower or do laundry can easily be mixed with listening to others and sharing how we’ve found hope in Christ.
A healthy balance between meeting needs and preaching the gospel can be so effective in reaching the lost. Success of this approach is evidenced in the sixty-four (64) lives that have come to faith in Christ because of the flood recovery efforts in eastern Kentucky in the last several weeks.
Remember the question that prompted this post – “are we here to help them recover from the flood or share the gospel?” I’m not saying that caring for the needy is equal to sharing the gospel. But both are important because they are expected of Christ followers. They are two sides of the same coin and there will certainly be synergy and life transformation when we do both together, just as Jesus did.