Compassionate Ministry

bertwaggoner's picture
by Berten A. Waggoner

Bert Waggoner is the former National Director of Vineyard USA.

“Compassionate Ministry” is one of the core values of the Vineyard. In the following pages I will endeavor to flesh out what this means and what it will look like. I was quite excited to put my thoughts down on this critical subject. This resulted in a five page document. I hope you will read it in its entirety. You should notice that compassionate ministry is closely related to the other values of culturally relevant mission and reconciling community. This is as it should be. I have included several endnotes located at the end of the paper. I would encourage you to read them as you go along.


If I were asked to pick one scripture that defines who the Vineyard is and what our ministry is, I would pick Luke 4:18-19. Here Jesus throws down the gauntlet in the face of all his enemies and announces that the Kingdom of God has come and what the battle is going to be as the kingdom of light confronts the kingdom of darkness: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him." [Luke 4:18-19] It is interesting to me what Jesus left out of this list of reasons for the anointing. The things that are left out of Jesus’ statement are, sadly, often made the primary reasons for the anointing in some circles. But Jesus says nothing about being anointed so he can be happy or rich. He says nothing about being anointed so he can have peace, be wealthy, speak in tongues or prophesy. He says nothing about being anointed so he can have a really exciting experience with God. None of these are included by Jesus as his reasons for being anointed.1 The things he left out are not bad. It’s good to be happy and rich, to speak in tongues and prophesy, and to have wonderful religious experiences. But they are not the primary reasons for the anointing of the Spirit. They are designed to be secondary. When secondary things are made primary in God’s Kingdom, good though they may be, they become profaned. When things that exist as a means to an end become the end, they are counterproductive to God’s Kingdom. Most idols are not bad in themselves. They are bad because they supplant their proper place - the penultimate replaces the ultimate. This displacement of priorities has sidetracked many moves of God. Jesus said that the reason for the anointing by the Spirit is missional. It is given so that the mission of the church can be achieved. This means that a people who are full of the Spirit will announce good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind. Spirit-filled people will release the oppressed and announce that the Kingdom of God has come, proclaiming the year of God’s favor. These ministries must not be spiritualized. They are real life, concrete engagements with the poor, the imprisoned, the disempowered, and those the rest of the world rejects. This is our ministry description. This is the stuff we are called to do, and the people upon whom we are to focus. Luke 4:18-19 is not all of our ministry description. There is more. But this is our ministry description in micro. The phrase “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” broadens the ministry description considerably. This is huge. “The time of fulfillment has arrived,” says Jesus. What time? The time when all the promises given in the Old Testament will begin to be fulfilled. It’s like Jesus is saying, “I am anointed to minister to the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the bound, the oppressed, and .....Oh I can’t list all of the things that are beginning to be fulfilled in my ministry as a result of the anointing, so let me put it like this: All the things included in the promises of the prophets that are to be fulfilled when God shows his favor are now in the process of being fulfilled. This is the time of God’s favor to the lost, the sick, the poor, the prisoners, and the dis-empowered. I am anointed to begin the process of their fulfillment. That is my ministry.” Historically, in the Vineyard we have generalized ministry, or as we call it “doin' the stuff,” to include ministry to the poor, the sick and the lost. Let me give a little more detail to that description. This specificity comes from looking at the Old Testament prophecies, the ministry of Jesus, and the example of the New Testament church. The church that is living in the dynamic of the coming Kingdom and thus, is being renewed by the Spirit has the following in her ministry description:

1. Start, build, strengthen, and mature reconciling, missional, compassionate churches. (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 41:8-10; Isaiah 43:4-7; Isaiah 49, esp. 5-6; Ezekiel 37; Matthew 10:1-41/ Mark 6:7-12/ Luke 9:1-6; Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 28:18-21; Luke 10:1-24; John 20:19-22; Acts, passim)

2. Preach the gospel for the intent of the spiritual transformation of individuals by the power of the Word and the Spirit. (Isaiah 55:10-11; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 4:43; Acts, passim; Romans 1:15-18; Romans 10:14-15; Romans 12:1-3; Romans 15:17-20; I Corinthians 1:17 - 2:5; II Corinthians 4:5-6; II Timothy 4:1-5)

3. Heal the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick. (Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 33:24; Isaiah 35:3-6; Isaiah 57:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-3; Jeremiah 33:6; Matthew 4:23-24; Matthew 10:8; Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:19; John 20:21)

4. Work to bring healing to families and other social units that will result in peace and freedom for their members. (Psalm 68:5-6; Isaiah 2:2-5; Malachi 4:6; Matthew 19:13-15/ Mark 10:13-16/ Luke 18:15-17; Luke 11:17; Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9; Colossians 3:18 – 4:1; Philemon 1-25)

5. Speak prophetically in word and deed to the social and political systems that imprison, abuse and destroy human life. (Exodus 1-14; Isaiah 1:1-31; Isaiah 55:7-23; Isaiah 65, 66; Daniel, e.g. 5; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:8; Luke 10:25-37; Ephesians 6:10-12)

6. Feed the hungry and clothe the poor. (Isaiah 58; Amos 2:6-16; Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 12:22-34; James 2:1-7)

7. Work for the release of slaves whether they are sex slaves, underpaid workers, employees in sweat shops, children enslaved in abusive labor conditions, kids serving in the military, or any other kinds of slavery that destroys human dignity. (Leviticus 25; Nehemiah 5; Isaiah 1:1-31; Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 7:22; Luke 10:25-37; James 5:1-6)

8. Work for reconciliation between races, cultures, economic groups, churches, and religions.2 (Isaiah 2:2-5; Isaiah 19:18-25; Matthew 5:23-26, 43-48/ Luke 6:27-36; John 17:1-26; Ephesians 1:9-10; Ephesians 2:11-22; Galatians 3:26-29; James 2:1-11)

9. Tend the earth so that it can sustain human life and be enjoyed by all according to God’s intention for his creation. (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 2:15; Isaiah 65, 66; Matthew 6:9-13/ Luke 11:2-4; Romans 8:18-27; Revelation 21:1-5)

These are the things that are on God’s heart. These are what God is doing in the world - the Missio Dei. These are the ministries of the church that is living in the dynamic of the Kingdom of God. These are what our Lord has called, equipped, and commissioned the Vineyard to do - not part of them, but all of them. These are our raison d’etre - our reason to exist. Sadly, for various reasons, the Fundamentalists and some within the Evangelical camp,3 in their conflict with liberalism’s social gospel, gave up their birthright and changed the mission and ministry of the church from the ministry of the Kingdom as stated above to ministry that simply had as its goal building churches and getting people to heaven. They shrank the ministry of the church to include only personal transformation and a ticket to glory land. This is in stark contrast to the more Kingdom-oriented Evangelicals of the nineteenth century who led in the reform of child labor laws, prisons, women’s suffrage, the fight against slavery, and other social ills. Pentecostals came along and, for the most part, took up the same limited ministry agenda as their Fundamentalist enemies4 and their Evangelical friends. They did flesh out the ministry agenda as they added praying for the sick and the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an empowerment for service. This experience with the Spirit catapulted them into one of the greatest expansions of the church that we have in recorded history. But this mission was primarily to build churches, not to transform society. The Charismatics came along and added inner healing to the agenda, while continuing to seek more and more power. At times their focus was primarily on having a good experience with God. They failed to go beyond the limited ministry agenda of the Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Pentecostals and most of the ministry was done by the upfront teams rather than by those in the pew. There were two things that held most of these Bible-believing churches back from a holistic ministry that focused on both personal transformation and social engagement. The first is that many of the churches were entangled in dispensational theology. The underlying idea in this eschatology is that the last days have come, the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and Jesus is going to come and take a limited remnant of the faithful out of this mess, then all hell is going to break out. The ultimate future for the earth is to provide fuel for God’s massive end time apocalyptic bonfire and cosmic fireworks display. So why work to change anything with that kind of future?5 The second thing that held the church back from its full mission, especially among the Pentecostals and Charismatics, was their tendency to get caught up in seeking a greater and more glorious experience with God and making the experience the end. Thus, the purpose of these experiences was primarily to make them feel better, not to equip them to do ministry.6 This is where John Wimber’s ministry and that of the Vineyard was different. Our primary focus was to equip the saints to do the whole ministry of the Kingdom. What happened on the stage was but a demonstration of how all were to do the stuff. “Everyone gets to play.” That was and is our motto. And the “play” was to do the works of the Kingdom - all the works. Once, during a time of renewal, John shared a vision that he had. In this vision he saw a large waterfall like Niagara. Millions of gallons of water were flowing over the fall every minute. As he watched he saw two scenarios. One was of the water running out into the desert and dissipating. It had no guidelines or purpose. It was a free-flowing stream of water rushing out into the desert without banks and producing nothing. In the other scenario, John saw the same waterfall, but this time it was flowing out into a desert into ditches where Vineyards had been planted, fruit was growing, and a richness of life was developing. He said that the first represented renewal without purpose. The second structured renewal into ministries that were in line with Kingdom ministries. He then called us back to the ministries that expressed the full message of the Kingdom.7


There is one thing that is required for these Kingdom ministries to be effective. They require an attitude of Holy Spirit-inspired Christian compassion. Not just any compassion will do. It needs a special kind of compassion - the kind of compassion that comes from the heart of God through the presence of the Holy Spirit. This special kind of compassion is the motivating factor for Kingdom ministries. Compassion does not simply mean that we feel with the lost, the poor, the victims of injustice, the aliens, the sick, or the bound. Christian compassion is to have God’s heart for these people. God is a God of compassion. This theme runs like a golden thread both through the Old and the New Testaments (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 111:4; Psalms 116:5; Jonah 4:2; Isaiah 54:10; Matthew 5:45; Romans 11:32). It is a primary identifier of who God is. As Stanley Grenz says: At the center of the faith of the Hebrew community stood a declaration of God’s compassion, which the book of Exodus describes as having its source in God himself. After revealing the divine name to Moses on Mount Sinai, Yahweh declares, “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)8In fact, it was the compassion of the Father that motivated Jesus. He knew how the Father felt about the lost, the poor, the victims, and the traumatized. He shared God’s heart. He had compassion with the Father. And “being moved with compassion” he preached the gospel, fed the hungry, identified with the lepers, set the captives free, healed the sick, and challenged the structures of injustice with a powerful counter-culture message of love and grace. (Matthew 9:36; Matthew14:14; Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41) The compassion that comes from the heart of God is not pity. Pity is what you have when you feel for someone in need, but do nothing to help. Pity is feeling sorry for the victim. Compassion, on the other hand, is something that grips you down deep in your gut. It grabs you so deeply that, even if there is risk and loss, you must do something to help the victim, whether they deserve it or not. Compassion is a work of the Holy Spirit - a true test of renewal. It is a very clear evidence of a Spirit-filled life. If God is a God of compassion and if the work of the Spirit is to give us God’s heart, then how could we be renewed and not care about those things that are on God’s heart? If compassion is an evidence of the Spirit’s presence, then the Spirit is alive and well in the Vineyard. We continue to pray for the sick and cast out demons. We continue to call people to a transforming experience with Jesus Christ. But we also reach out to the victimized, the poor, the strangers, and the enslaved with the compassionate hands of our Lord. These acts of kindness come out of the compassion that is born in us by the Spirit. Like our Lord, we are “moved with the compassion” that is in the heart of the Father. We feel with the Father and we act with the Father. While reading the articles in this web edition that are focusing us on our core value of “compassionate ministry,” I saw compassion evident in every one of them. I saw compassion reflected in testimonies of churches ministering to the sick and to orphans. I saw compassion evidenced in the ministry to those enslaved in human trafficking and in churches feeding the poor. These articles are evidence that the Spirit is vitally at work among us. Over the last five years I have seen compassion at work in the response of hundreds of Vineyard churches who sent nearly two million dollars through the Vineyard to care for those who had been hit by natural catastrophes. But this is not all. Hundreds of Vineyard people from those Vineyard churches also put on their work clothes, rolled up their sleeves, took vacation days, and paid their own traveling expenses to go to the areas of need. Then they gave hundreds of hours to serve those whose lives had been destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, and massive flooding. This is compassion at work. These things reflect the heart of God and are evidence of the Spirit’s presence among us.

Promoting Compassionate Ministries

There are several things the Vineyard is doing to make sure we stay faithful to do the ministries of compassion. First, we continue to encourage every Vineyard to be intentional in reaching out to lost people. We recognize that the highest priority we have in ministry is to see lives transformed by the power of the gospel. We never want to make this secondary. There is no substitute for evangelism that results in transformed lives. Secondly, we want every Vineyard to have a vibrant and vital healing ministry to those physically, emotionally, socially, or spiritually sick. Healing was central to the ministry of Jesus and the early church. It was also the healing ministry that was part of the birth of the Vineyard almost thirty years ago. There is nothing that the church does to reflect the compassion of Jesus more than when she extends healing to the sick. Thirdly, we want every Vineyard to be involved in compassionate ministry that takes them into the streets of our communities, to the inner core of our cities, and to the places of darkness, suffering, injustice, and poverty all over the world. Compassionate ministry must bring good news to the poor, the bound, the bleeding, the chained, the rejected, the weak, the strangers, and the victimized. This is the ministry God has given us.


Vineyard is and has always been a Kingdom of God movement and thus, a movement of compassion. We are committed to seeking the Father’s heart, knowing that when we find it, it will be filled with compassion - a compassion for the hurting, the bound, the foreigners, and the dis-empowered. He wants his people to share his heart and therefore, his compassion. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Father...let your kingdom come.” My prayer is that the Vineyard will always be an instrument of the Spirit, filled with the compassion of the Father, doing the works of the Kingdom so that the prayer our Lord gave to us will be realized in and through us.


1 This does not mean that personal renewal is not necessary or greatly to be desired. It is, but it can never be made an end. See John Wimber’s comments in footnote 6 below.
2 We cannot forsake our commitment to our belief that Jesus is the only way to God, but we can work to discover common ground and common cause.
3 The things I say here regarding Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics are general statements and reflect the past, not necessarily the present. There is a convergence toward a holistic Kingdom agenda among all of these groups today. (See Russell Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective.)
4 Most Fundamentalists considered Pentecostals and Charismatics their enemies.
5 I am aware of the passages of Scripture that refer to a destruction by fire. These must be exegeted. But I am also aware that the preponderance of Scripture and the movement of the Kingdom narrative point to restoration and transformation of the earth – not its destruction.
6 This is a point John Wimber made in 1995: “An overemphasis on experience may attract weakened, more immature believers whose priority in Christianity is finding the hot’ renewal meetings and getting blasted by God. These ‘renewal groupies’ drift from one renewal meeting to another looking to reproduce their prior experience. Experience for the sake of experience goes against a deeply held Vineyard value. One of the things we have observed is that experience leads to more experience leads to more experience. It seems to be a self-justifying loop. ‘God blasted my socks off tonight. I’m going back again tomorrow night.’” (Vineyard Reflections, July/August 1995)
7 This vision was shared with the Vineyard Board in 1994. After writing this article I was made aware of an article in Vineyard Reflections, July/August, 1994. It was stated in a little different way from what I remember in the oral statement, but it has the same essence.
8 Grenz, Stanley, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 122-123.

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