Not Just a Soup Kitchen

Does your local church faithfully minister in the area of mercy? Many of us likely cringe a bit at that question. Perhaps the reason we do not like our own answer to that question is due to ignorance, confusion, fear, lack of leadership, or simply hard-heartedness. So, what is the way forward? When Jesus taught on the ministry of compassion, he often did so through stories – the parable of the Good Samaritan is foremost among them. Those stories then give way to instruction in the ministry of mercy.

Dr. David Apple’s new book Not Just a Soup Kitchen: How Mercy Ministry in the Local Church Transforms Us All follows the same pattern. Apple has been director of Active Compassion Through Service at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for over twenty-five years.

The book opens with Apple’s own biography of having twice been the wounded man on the side of the road like the man on the Jericho Road. He also experienced a hundred other hurts. He writes “This book is partially the story of how God transformed my life after surviving a near-death skull-fracture, childhood sexual abuse, teenage hopelessness, marital betrayal, spiritual bankruptcy and thoughts of suicide as an adult.” The narrative does not disappoint. God converted this man, spiritually and emotionally healed him, and equipped him to serve. It is an account of great hope!

It is also a story of how God changed a church. The Lord has transformed Tenth Church over the last thirty years to being a congregation that rarely reached out to its neighbors to being a church readily ministering to those who are suffering. If you think your church might have a hard time changing, Apple’s testimony of how Jesus worked to change this local body one heart at a time will give you hope.

The bulk of the book is instructional, but the illustrative stories that flow from decades of ministry do not cease. Apple works from the principles that we must minster the gospel and that we must not work harder than those we seek to serve.

He discusses general principles of working effectively and wisely, with many helpful hands on tips before moving more directly to the biblical role of the deacon. Though the work is not a standard handbook for deacons, it may be more effective.

In laying the foundation for a biblical understanding of the diaconate, Apple again starts with a story: the story of deacons in Calvin’s Geneva. He discusses biblical teaching on the diaconate. He shares surveys taken of various local diaconal ministries to see how deacons respond to meet current needs in our generation. The benchmarking will stimulate deacons to consider possibilities they have not yet considered. The primary substance on the role of the deacon comes as he lists his eight roles of the deacon and then unpacks each one.

The latter chapters and appendices are loaded with practical suggestions for deacons and everyone who wants to serve. Not Just a Soup Kitchen is a wonderful resource for deacons to read together and discuss together as they evaluate their own local ministry. The principles in the book are broad enough to apply to all churches, and the stories are specific enough to envision how application might be made.

The biggest weakness of the book is the chapter layout. Several chapters seem out of place. Be ready to skip to the next chapter when the content does not apply to your local situation.

If you are within driving distance of Indianapolis, come hear Dr. Apple speak to some of these matters at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church on October 31 and November 1, 2014. Dr. Philip Ryken and Dr. David Apple will team up to teach on the theology and practice of mercy ministry at the Fall Conference of the Reformation Society of Indiana. The title is Growing a Heart for Ministry. The conference is free. All ordained deacons who preregister will receive a free copy of Not Just a Soup Kitchen and will have opportunity to share a lunch discussion with Dr. Apple on Saturday.