The spiritual and physical needs in Tennessee are virtually overwhelming. With widespread poverty and other human needs at an all-time high, churches have a ripe opportunity to bridge the gap with their communities through compassion ministries. Radio B&R sat down with state missionary Joe Sorah to discuss how churches can serve their neighbors and lead them to Christ through compassion ministries.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into Radio B&R, the official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist mission board. I’m Chris Turner, your host. And today I’m talking with Joe Sorah, one of our state missionaries that works with Compassion Ministry, and former pastor for a number of years in East Tennessee.
Joe, welcome to our podcast.
Joe Sorah: Thank you, Chris. It’s an honor to be part of this broadcast. Well, Joe, one of the things we want to talk about obviously is Compassion Ministry. It’s something that’s been very close to your heart even as you were a pastor and [Phonetic][00:33] looked across your community.
And we’re going to talk a little bit about the needs that are here in the state of Tennessee. And I’ll let you get to that in just a moment. But really what I want to start with is when you say Compassion Ministry a lot of things come to people’s mind.
How would you define Compassion Ministry?
Joe: You know, Chris, individuals would call me and ask me that kind of a question. And for me it starts with the two words. Compassion, caring about people, having pity for people, caring enough to act — and then ministry.
It’s not just caring about people. All kinds of secular organizations care about people. But ministry, ministry means that I want to introduce them to Jesus Christ. I want to help grow them in their faith, helping them to come to the place where they can introduce others to Jesus Christ.
And so it’s a combination of caring about people, caring about people that are hurting and suffering, lead them to a [Phonetic][01:27] faith relationship with Christ and discipling them in that process.
Chris: You have a quote that you like to quote that sums up Compassion Ministry. What’s that quote that you use?
Joe: Well, Charles Roselle who is sort of the guru of Compassion Ministry stated that the church [Phonetic][01:46] administers to hurting people will never lack for an audience.
Chris: Yeah, and when you think about just what Tennessee looks like, what — Give us a picture cos I think a lot of people when they think about Tennessee they might have a lot of different — They might be from an urban center like the Nashville or the Memphis or Chattanooga and Knoxville area.
But really those are not necessarily a representation of what we are as a state. Give us an idea of what Tennessee looks like really from a human needs perspective.
Joe: Well, Tennessee has a population of over 6 million people. We have those, the number of those who are in poverty exceed a million. Realistically one out of every six people that you meet in Tennessee live in poverty. Eighteen percent had incomes below the poverty line.
Tennessee ranks 45th in overall poverty rates. Twenty-six percent of our children grew up in families with poverty. It is widespread. The needs are all across Tennessee.
Chris: As you look at Compassion ministry you see Compassion Ministry as reaching beyond just poverty into some other areas. What are some of those other areas that you feel [Phonetic][02:58] like it’s an opportunity for the church to engage.
Joe: I personally feel like our model for Compassion Ministry is found in Luke’s gospel, Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus actually quotes during the book of Isaiah — He states the spirit, the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he’s anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. What you hear what Jesus is saying there about the kind of ministry that he’s called to, and if we’re followers of Jesus then we would also do the kind of ministry that Jesus did, it does start with those in poverty —
Can’t escape that. Uh, there’s different ways of doing that. Obviously we want to care for people when emergency and disaster strikes. [Phonetic][03:52] Kind of things what’s happened even recently in Gatlinburg and things like that.
But it’s also more than that. We want to help people in development with job skills, literacy, GED, things like that, ESL, Christian Women’s Job Core, Christian Men’s Job Core, excellent ministries that we in our churches need to be doing to help the poor.
We have the brokenhearted Jesus talked about. And we think about “Well, what breaks hearts?” Well, things like death, divorce, abuse. We have ministries and churches in Tennessee that are seeking to administer to people in these kinds of situations.
Grace Baptist Church in Elizabethan, Tennessee where Travis Tyler is the pastor, they’re ministering to people every week that are going through grief, having a grief support group, meeting at the local hospital. And they’re reaching lost people through that, and of course divorce recovery.
A lot of our churches are doing those kinds of things. That’s Compassion Ministry. That’s caring about people whose hearts are breaking. And then Jesus talked about the captive. And we think about what holds people captive, well obviously addictions.
Addictions are powerful things that are holding people, uh, captive, addictions such as alcohol and drugs and pornography. But in Tennessee one of our greatest needs is to help people with prescription drug abuse.
And so as churches administer to families, not only the victims but also the family members that are going through these kinds of addictions, they’re doing compassion ministry. What holds people captive?
And then, uh, Jesus talked about ministering to the blind. And I think about the sick, the diseased, ministering the sick. And a lot of our churches do a good job with hospital ministry. But it’s more than just hospital.
It’s also hospice ministry. How many of our church members, and I mean people in our community, are under hospice care and nobody ever visits them? We have many, many that would be receptive to the gospel, maybe unlike any other time than when they are or a family member are in the midst of hospice.
And so what a great opportunity to go minister to them, nursing home ministry, homebound ministry, things like that. And then Jesus said that he came to, to reach the oppressed, to set the prisoners free. And when you think about the prisoners we think about those with, uh, uh, [Inaudible][06:14] of justice; for instance jail and prison ministry.
At any time in Tennessee we [Phonetic][06:20] have over 125,000 people that are part of the judicial system. Human trafficking, setting people free, we have a huge problem in Tennessee with human trafficking. So there’s a lot of, lot of different ways that we can take compassion ministry more so than just, uh, just poverty.
And certainly poverty is part of it. But there’s a lot of different ways to meet the needs of hurting, suffering people.
Chris: Yeah, and you just, you just went through a whole list of ways that when we think about compassion and ministry I think we do think a lot about those that are less-advantaged than a lot of people. But really it’s looking out across people and recognizing and seeing people who are hurting in some way.
How does a Compassion Ministry impact a local church?
Joe: Well, I think it’s like, uh, what Charles Roselle said. The church administers that administers to hurting people will never lack for an audience. When I think about that I think about all the different churches that when it comes down we fill out the ACP.
And we finally realize we’ve not reached anybody with the gospel in the past year. Why is that? And it could be because we’re only caring for ourselves and only caring about those under our roof. And if we open our eyes to see hurting people and [Phonetic][07:39] we start administering to those hurting people then opportunities will automatically, automatically open up for the opportunity to share the gospel.
So obviously I think it would impact evangelism in a local church. I think it impacts church revitalization. We are focused, which is often inward-focused — And we’re always thinking about just ourselves. But when we start ministering to hurting people and we start getting outside the walls of our church and seeing people in need, our focus changes.
And that will change our very churches. It will change the way we look at things. It will change the way the church thinks. And so it impacts church revitalization. And then also think about the younger generation.
The younger generation wants to be involved in social ministry. And if we fail to involve them in our churches they’ll go find other avenues. They’ll serve through local agencies or something like that. But why would we want to let our younger folks go do that when we need them in our churches?
In addition to that, it’s a great discipling mechanism for them where they learn to reach out to people in need and share the gospel. So, uh, I think you can impact a local church in many, many ways.
Chris: So a church hears this, a pastor hears it, you know — it’s not necessarily always the pastor in the local church who is the champion for a compassion ministry. They may be someone within the church who has a burden for a particular aspect.
Where does, where does a church begin or somebody who might be listening to this, where would they begin to start to engage their church and their community in a compassion ministry?
Joe: That’s a great, a great question Chris. Uh, the first thing I would say is we start with prayer. We really do start to ask God, “God what is it you want us to do?” Now we look around and we see what everybody else is doing and the tendency and the temptation would be “Well, let’s just automatically do what others are doing.”
But it could be that we’re not supposed to do what they’re doing. We need to say “God, what would you have us to do?” Also think about your passion. And it doesn’t have to be your passion. It could be that, uh —
Like Henry Blackaby talks about, pay attention to those who God sends to your church. And it could be that God sent somebody to your church that really has a passion for human trafficking or God sent somebody that has a real passion for, for divorce care or something like that.
So your passion or somebody in your church, what’s their passion? Be very sensitive to that. Also when I think about, I think about where do you start? You start by preparing yourself. Find out who else is doing the kind of ministry you feel like God’s called you to and learn from them.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. So learn from them. Also with that I think about that what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, that we’re to comfort others with the comfort from which we’ve been comforted. In other words what have we experienced?
And what have the folks in our church, what have they experienced? And then those are the best-equipped [Phonetic][10:39] to minister to people going through like things. So what’s God prepared us to do?
And then I think about the fourth issue that you think about is persistence. What continue, continues to come to your mind? What continues to haunt you? What keeps you up at night? What do you think about?
What ministry and what kind of suffering do you see continually that you feel like “We’ve got to do something. We’ve got to meet this need”? There’s many, many, many millions. And so what the church would do —
To me you start, you start one at a time. And that’s what Charles Roselle — When I asked Charles, I said, “Charles, what would you do?” And he said I would prayerfully start one ministry at a time. And I said, “Well Charles, where would you start?”
And Charles actually said I wouldn’t start with like a closed closet or a food pantry. I would start with celebrate recovery because the time we spend with people, it’s that time — The more time we spend with them the more evangelistically effective it is.
And it makes sense. And so I would prayerfully consider, “Okay God, what would you have us to do? And how can we invest ourselves in people’s lives? And how can we minister to ’em with Your love and share the gospel through it?”
Don’t just, don’t just care for people. But share the gospel through it.
Chris: You know you hit on a lot of things there that are very practical ways to, to get started. Obviously you’re not just kicking a church out the door and saying “Here, go do it.” I mean you’re here as a resource, as a missionary of the Tennessee Baptist mission board to help Tennessee Baptists in this area.
What, what are some things that the, uh, TBMB can help them with?
Joe: Absolutely. We’re here to assist you. That’s why we’re here. That’s, uh, it’s our joy and privilege. You can contact me at JSorah@tnbaptist.org. And, uh, you can contact me that way by email, or you can give me a call at 4238951481.
And it would be my honor and joy to come and just sit and talk to you. Let’s prayerfully consider what God would [Phonetic][12:42] have you to do. We can also come and help you to network with other churches.
We can help, help you discover other churches that are doing the kind of ministry that you feel lead to do. And we can learn from each other. We can come and help give direction like that. It would be our joy and privilege to come alongside you and help you in any way we can.
Chris: And, you know, another way that people can get in touch with us if they go to our — What is actually a new website, same web address at TNBaptist.org and scroll about halfway down that page. There is a place there that says “need ministry support. How can we help?”
If you click on that button it takes you out to a form and you’ll see there that you can check the compassion ministry section. And that actually kicks directly to Joe so that he would be able to contact you in a very short period of time and get out and do that.
Thanks for taking a little time just to explain what the Tennessee Baptist mission board is doing as far as compassion ministry.
Joe: Thank you, Chris.