Principles for the Ministry of Mercy

Adopted by the OP Uganda Mission: August 24, 2015

A Working Definition of Poverty

1. Poverty in material things is the providential lack of sufficient resources to provide for one’s self (and for the spouse and/or children for which he/she is responsible) the present basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment— that are indispensably necessary to preserve the life and health of those made in God’s image.


2. God created man in His own image for His own glory, placed him in familial relations, and gave him work: to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over every living thing.
3. Work is not to be regarded as an end in itself, but rather as part of our obedience to our Maker, even as we press towards the chief end: the glory of God and our enjoyment of Him, for His sake, both in this life and the next.
4. While after the fall, that work would be accompanied by pain, sweat, and a return to the dust, work is nevertheless the instrument that God gives to mankind by which they are, unless He providentially orders their lives differently, to provide for their own basic needs and the needs of those for whom they are responsible.
5. God enjoins honest work upon all able-bodied persons, that not only may they be able to provide for the needs of their families, but also that they have something to share with those in need.
6. Sinful behaviors (e.g., laziness, indolence, wanton cravings, and the following of worthless pursuits) often lead to poverty and destitution. However, with regard to any particular individual currently in poverty, it should not be presumed that his/her poverty is the result of such sinful behaviors by that individual.
7. The full-time ministry of the Word is an honorable calling in Christ’s church, and those who faithfully labor in it should ordinarily be fully supported by those calling them to such labors.

The Saints

8. All that we presently possess has been received by grace from God to be used in His service and for His glory, and we are to be good stewards of all that He has entrusted to us.
9. All persons are to regard the dignity and worth of each other, as fellow image bearers of God.
10. God, in His providence, distributes gifts and graces among the saints, as He deems best for His own glory and the good of His church, though with respect to any particular gift or grace, some may have more and some less.
11. By virtue of their being united to Christ, all saints are united to one another in love, participate in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obligated to the performance of such duties as do contribute to their mutual good, both spiritually and physically.
12. In addition to working to support our own families, the saints are also to work to support the work of Christ’s church (and particularly of those who minister God’s Word to us) and to have something to share with those in need.
13. Following the example of our Savior, who though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, so that we by His poverty might become rich, it is the duty of all saints to be hospitable and to come to the aid of one another in material things, according to their various abilities and necessities.
14. Within the household of faith, those with a present abundance of a particular gift or grace are to share generously with those who are presently in want of such, in proportion to their several stations and circumstances, that there might be present relief from such want, thereby producing a befitting symmetry—with each man providing for those in need according to the extent of his means, so that no man has too much and no man has too little, though some may still have more with regard to a particular gift or grace, and some less—not an artificial equalization or uniformity.
15. The duty of all saints to come to the aid of one another in material things extends to all those in every place who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus; and the saints (as they are able, after taking proper care of their families) should give generously for the relief of the poor in their local congregation, and then in the regional, national, and international ecclesiastical expressions thereof, knowing that the saints’ love for one another is a living testimony to the world that they are Christ’s disciples.
16. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which includes anyone in need who, in God’s providence, crosses our path and whom we are able to help.
17. As they are able, the saints (after taking proper care of their families and the needs within the household of faith) are to be generous with their poor neighbors, including inviting them to attend upon the preaching of the Word.
18. As the saints respond to the needs of their poor neighbors, their loving generosity should be guided by an awareness, as much as possible, of the neighbor’s circumstances (including lifestyle choices, cultural values, etc.) and a mature godly wisdom, so as to reduce the occasion for the unintended fostering of an unhealthy dependence or the perpetuation of sinful habits, and thereby avoid placing a stumbling block before those they are trying to help.

The Deacons

19. The ministry of mercy of any particular board of deacons is inherently connected to a local congregation (“serve tables”), is always in support of the ministry of the Word (“devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”), and is under the oversight of the local session.
20. The board of deacons is to be above reproach in the administration of the resources entrusted to them, aiming at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of men; and to that end, they should ensure that sufficient and accurate records are kept of receipts and disbursements, and that such records are available for inspection (bearing in mind the duty to protect the privacy of ultimate recipients) periodically by appropriate bodies; and further to that end, they should organize their labors to ensure that (except in cases of imminent life-threatening emergency) decisions regarding disbursements (at least those above a de minimis amount) are to be made by a plurality of deacons.
21. As circumstances permit, deacons should strive in every diaconal encounter to pray with the distressed and remind them of the consolations of Scripture.
22. The deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy towards the saints and strangers on behalf of the church, exercising a recognized stewardship of care and gifts for those in need or distress.
23. The deacons should remind members of the church of the gravity with which Scripture speaks of those who do not provide for their relatives, and especially for members of their household (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8).
24. The deacons should encourage members of the church to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share in order to provide for those in want, especially those in the household of faith, such provision to include not only monetary gifts or tangible gifts in kind (i.e., food, clothing, and shelter), but also an appropriate ordering of their affairs so as to be able to volunteer their time and skills to bless and assist those in want.
25. The deacons should encourage the saints (as they are able, and after taking proper care of their families and the needs of the poor in their local congregation) to give generously for the relief of the poor (“begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints,” cf. 2 Corinthians 8:4) in the regional, national, and international ecclesiastical expressions of the household of faith.
26. The deacons should encourage members of the church, as appropriate, to work quietly and earn their own living so that they may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one, and so that they may have something to share with anyone in need.
27. The deacons should be discreet and cheerful when making distributions to the needy, treating them with the respect and honor due them, and safe-guarding their privacy.
28. Diaconal distributions should not be made for the benefit of the able-bodied who are known to be walking in idleness or unwilling to work; but depending on the circumstances, other members of their families might still be eligible for diaconal assistance.
29. The deacons should be proactive in ascertaining that the needs of those in the local congregation, and especially of the widows and orphans, are being met, including the making of periodic home visitations, perhaps with a minister or elder.
30. Ordinarily, regular periodic distributions of diaconal assistance will be made only for the benefit of widows, orphans, the feeble, or the incapacitated (who are presently unable to provide fully for their own needs and have no family willing and able to do so); diaconal distributions for the benefit of others will ordinarily be ad hoc and nonrecurring.
31. In responding to a request (that is neither frivolous nor for something sinful) from within the household of faith for diaconal assistance to meet a perceived need, the deacons, if they conclude that the need is both genuine and worthy, will seek to find ways to participate with the member(s) making the request in meeting that need, encouraging therein the diligent employment of the gifts and graces that the member(s) has received.
32. To reduce occasions for temptation, diaconal distributions should ordinarily be made in a form other than giving cash directly to the individual requesting such assistance.
33. In considering the form of a diaconal distribution to a member of the church to meet a need, the further removed the purpose of such distribution is from the relief of a present basic need, the greater the weight the deacons should give to making such distribution in the form of an interest-free loan.
34. In the exercise of their stewardship, the deacons should look into the circumstances, which are not known to them, of those seeking diaconal assistance to meet a stated need, and should seek to develop networks of persons of good repute in the locality to assist them in doing this.
35. In their work of seeking to prevent poverty in the vicinity of the local congregation (and hence proximate to the preaching of the Word), the deacons should organize their labors so as to be ready, not only to respond to specific requests for assistance to alleviate poverty (e.g., maintain a garden in which those able to do so could temporarily labor to meet a present basic need), but also to be proactive in identifying some of the underlying contributing factors to poverty in the locality (e.g., lack of clean water, medical assistance, opportunities for gainful employment) and in developing the resources necessary to address such through voluntary donations (of funds, tangible items, time, skills, training, or employment opportunities) from both the saints and those in the community at large.
36. The deacons should familiarize themselves with resources (e.g., governmental, charitable/non-governmental, commercial, private) in the general locality that might be available to assist them in responding to needs in the locality in a biblical manner, seek to develop informal relationships with such, and encourage the needy to avail themselves of such when appropriate.
37. The deacons should seek to develop relationships with potential employers in the locality, who would, upon the deacons’ recommendation, be willing to consider providing employment (either occasional or permanent) to the sufficiently able-bodied among those seeking diaconal assistance.
38. The deacons should take care not to undermine existing social structures that are already in place, except to the extent such may be required by Scripture.
39. The deacons should work with the other church officers to assist in developing a faithful diaconate in the local congregation, and towards this end, they will seek to develop healthy mentoring relationships with biblically qualified men therein.
40. Diaconal distributions to individuals outside of the household of faith should always be made in the name of Jesus, be accompanied by an invitation to attend upon the preaching of the Word, and except in extraordinary circumstances, be restricted to meeting a present basic need.
Printable PDF of these principles, including materials from the OPC Standards:
  • From the Scriptures
  • From the Secondary (Confessional) Standards
  • From the Tertiary (Book of Church Order) Standards