Philosophy of Ministry – Sidewalk Counseling

In order to help those who feel a strong call to be a voice for the voiceless at their local abortion center, I want to write a few blogposts sharing some of what we at Cities4Life have learned over the years. Hopefully these posts will help encourage you as you seek to serve the Lord in this very rewarding but difficult ministry.
The first topic I want to touch on is foundational to not only beginning well; but also staying in the battle, because being a faithful Gospel-centered presence at your local abortion center is a battle.

The first topic is “philosophy of ministry” as it concerns sidewalk counseling. What I mean is “What should be your motivation and drive to be a sidewalk counselor?”, and “How do you view Christian ministry in general?”

Guilt and Hatred Aren’t Good Reasons

As we train sidewalk counselors here in Charlotte, one of the key things we look for in new volunteers is why they are volunteering with us. Are they motivated by the guilt of a past abortion? Maybe it isn’t guilt; maybe they’re motivated by hatred for Planned Parenthood, the abortion industry, or even the Democratic Party.

One thing I’ve seen over the years, is that people who are motivated by guilt will not last long. Even though guilt may be a great tool to get someone involved in a cause, it will rarely sustain them in that cause. If guilt becomes a sustaining force, it can quickly turn into hatred and self-righteousness. If hatred becomes our sustaining force, that could lead to situations and confrontations that dishonor the Lord.

I tell our new Cities4Life volunteers that they can in no way be motivated by hatred for anyone or anything. I warn them that to be motivated by hatred for the devil, as easy as he is to hate and as much as we can justify it biblically, is wrong and will make you ineffective as a sidewalk counselor. So, the obvious conclusion is that we must be motivated by love.

Love is the Best Motivation but…

In contrast to hatred and guilt, we must be motivated by love if we are going to be effective in any Christian ministry; but we can’t put the cart before the horse. When we have new potential volunteers that join us on the sidewalk, I ask them why they want to volunteer with us. Some will share how they feel compelled to come because they feel compassion for the women that come to the abortion center in such dire situations.
Certainly, there are women who you will encounter at the abortion center who are in dire situations. But don’t be surprised if those “poor innocent women” who you thought were just waiting for someone like you to tell them that they didn’t need to have an abortion, threaten to beat your face in and call you every name in the book. You see if your first motivation is compassion for women, or even compassion for these precious babies, you can become discouraged very quickly.

Putting love for people (even the unborn) first, is really putting the cart before the horse. We should love people even if they have threatened our lives. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. But there is a more important affection we must have if we are going to be sustained in our walk with the Lord, and our service to Him.

Love For God Must Come First

In Matthew 22 and Luke 10, Jesus really helps us to put things in their proper order when he is asked “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?” He actually answers with two commandments, not just the greatest. In doing so, He ties the first to the second so that we understand that there is an order, and that these commandments are closely tied together. He says the first commandment is to love God. If you love your neighbor before you love God, things can, like we say down south, “get outta whack”.

Again, if we’re motivated by love for people first, that love won’t sustain us through trying times. We have to be driven by a love for God first. If we don’t love Him, we can’t properly love our neighbor as we are called to. If we keep our love for God as our first motivation, we can stand through the days on the sidewalk when it seems as if no one is listening. First and foremost, we’re not out there for them, we’re out there for Him. Because He loves these people, His love compels us to speak the truth to them, even if they don’t want to hear it. If we keep our love for God first, then a natural outflow is a love for our neighbor and even for those who hate us.

The Bible Should Be Our Model for Ministry

In an age when we’re constantly bombarded with marketing strategies and ad campaigns, it’s hard to believe that a book written 2,000 years ago could be a better guide than all the stuff that modern man has figured out. The fact is that regardless of what market geniuses may say, God’s word, and not some modern business model, is the perfect standard for us to model ministry by. If we claim to be doing a Christian ministry, shouldn’t we model our ministry after the ministry of Christ?

Do I mean that we put on a robe and wear sandals when we go to reach out at our local abortion center? Of course not. What I’m saying is that the way we conduct ourselves and the goal of our ministry should be first and foremost modeled after the pattern we see in scripture. Jesus came speaking and living the truth without compromise. If we are to have Him as our standard we must speak the truth. Some people are afraid it may offend or “turn people off” at the local abortion center if we call out scripture to those going in for abortions. Personally, I’ve been told by some pro-life people that we should not quote scripture to those seeking abortions because they may not believe in the Bible, and thus we may not connect with them in an effective way. However, my experience over the years and more importantly what I see in scripture, tells me that God’s word is very effective in changing hearts and minds.

Here in the South, the vast majority of those going into abortion centers were raised in church so when you quote scripture, often you are reminding them of truths that they have grown up with, and that will touch a place in their hearts that few other things will. The scriptures’ own testimony of itself is “The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even the division of soul and spirit…” This means that God’s Word can do a deep work in the heart of a person.

As Christian sidewalk counselors, we are first and foremost ministers of the Gospel; ministers of the Word of God. That doesn’t mean that we only quote scriptures when we reach out to those going in. We would be unwise not to use this very powerful tool to reach the hearts of moms, dads, and others we meet at the local abortion centers. Using the Bible as our model of ministry, and particularly looking at the life of our Lord, we see that Jesus surely quoted scripture, but He also reached out in other ways. He met peoples’ practical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Also, Jesus spoke with grace to those who were already humbled, but He certainly did rebuke the proud. Still we see that He did so out of a heart of compassion.

If we’re going to go to an abortion center to honor the Lord, we should seek to minister out of compassion and humility as our Lord did. These are just a few takeaways as I read the New Testament, and see the model of ministry that God gives us there. The key is being in the scriptures and allowing God to show you what ministry looks like, rather than modeling ministry after some strategy birthed in a board room.

In the next blogpost I’m going to talk a little about some effective ways to communicate with those going into the abortion centers. Usually you have only a few seconds to plant a seed of truth in the heart of a woman seeking an abortion. You may only have the time it takes her to walk from her car to the door of the abortion center. What are some biblical and effective ways to help her change her mind and possibly come over to talk with you? We’ll deal with that in the next post.