After a busy day late in December, we popped in on a Wednesday night to visit the University church of Christ in Tampa, Florida. As we skimmed their picture board hoping to have one of those “It’s a small world after all” moments, it happened! “Hey! I know them!” We had forgotten that of the dozens of congregations in the area, some friends from the Northwest, Ross and Maddie Turner, whom we’d spent some wonderful Thanksgivings with, both worshiped with this congregation while they attended Florida College. In fact, we had just kayaked with them among the many manatees in Fort Myers, and on the way back had loudly sang familiar Christmas songs, creating our own altered lyrics to accommodate the manatees being a part of every carol. We were glad to see their smiling faces on the photo board filled with this thriving family of God.
The congregation had an energetic vibe and the Bible class at the University church of Christ was well attended. We enjoyed a good class on Daniel chapters 4 and 5, where a comment in class really lingered within me. The comment was regarding something specific within Daniel’s plea to King Nebuchadnezzar to repent, and indicated what the King’s repentance was to look like: “Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity” (Daniel 4:27). Showing mercy to the poor is certainly one “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8) that every Christian is to practice throughout life. Of the little that I know about this congregation, I do know they have done a good job of doing that very thing. They don’t just talk about helping the poor, but have led by example in their “going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41) to serve the spiritually and sometimes physically needy in sending their elder, Steve Patton, to such places as Ethiopia and the Seychelles Islands to share the love and truth of Jesus.
If you are reading this book and know little about the church of Christ, it might interest you to know that we help the poor in a way that is not very common in the denominational world, but we believe it to be the most loving and effective because it is the most biblical approach. I guess you could say the way we help the poor is more often about “rolling up our own sleeves” than it is paying someone else to roll up theirs. Here’s what I mean: You’ll see more families adopting children, or even entire sibling groups, or gifting an adoptive family some funds to help them adopt, rather than forming and funding an institution to house the fatherless and motherless. We don’t use a modern American business model as a pattern for helping the needy, but as outlined in the New Testament, we see ourselves more like a family with a mission to first take care of one another, then additionally we as individuals reach out to those souls outside the church in all kinds of ways: spiritually, emotionally and often, physically and financially.
Also, since the New Testament church did not spend money on business ventures, schools, gyms and such, neither do we. We still thoughtfully educate our children and have a good time together (like kayaking with the manatees), but we do things like that on our own dime, so that we actually have more pooled funds for the more biblical priorities of helping the spiritually needy through fulfilling the mission of the church to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Instead of creating another institution where children study math, English, science and history, we instead send funds to preachers around the world so that they can teach their communities what God says about preparing for eternity and staying in relationship with Him.
With reference to helping the poor, the divine pattern in the New Testament that obtains God’s favor is this: one congregation directly sending another congregation financial relief, rather than what we see from the more secular, money-wasting model of costly, unnecessary red tape requiring a network of paid office workers and other staff.
In the New Testament, we don’t see groups of churches creating bigger organizations to do their work, we just see Christians taking care of Christians. Individual members of the church of Christ can often be seen volunteering in all kinds of volunteer work within organizations that already exist within the world. We fight sex trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, homelessness, abortion, and any other social problem you could name — by volunteering our own personal time and funds, and without taking a single dollar out of the money collected by the church that could be spent changing someone’s eternity through the gospel being preached or to feed and clothe a brother or sister in need. What a Christian puts into the church treasury is only the beginning of the good they do with their blessings in this life.
There is sometimes a feeling of vulnerability when we go face to face and eye to eye with the poor. The hands-on approach of men like Steve Patton takes prayer and courage. Let’s be inspired! Let’s figure out today all the practicalities of just exactly how we are going to be more sacrificial in order to love better those whom God’s providence puts in our path.University church of Christ
14314 Bruce B. Downs Blvd
Tampa, FL, 33613