Randy Nabors, pastor emeritus of New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has authored a challenging new book, Merciful: The Opportunity and Challenge of Discipling the Poor Out of Poverty. Nabors draws on his experiences of growing up in the projects of Newark, New Jersey, as well as serving as pastor of an inner-city congregation that became a model for ministering to the materially poor. As Urban and Mercy Ministries coordinator for the PCA’s Mission to North America, Nabors is helping other congregations develop practical, proactive strategies for offering biblical mercy.

Your book’s title is “MERCIFUL.” What do you mean by mercy as it relates to ministering to the poor?

The way I define mercy in my book is compassion toward those who are in need, resulting in action to alleviate that need through acts of charity leading toward self-sustainment. Mercy covers and repairs a lot of things that are broken, and nowhere do we see brokenness more pronounced than when we work with the chronically, materially poor.

The question is how to discern the wisest ways to give mercy. Many times our good intentions are left unrealized, thwarted by inept and ineffective methods or aborted by complications we encounter in attempting to extend mercy to others.

Your book’s subtitle addresses “discipling the poor out of poverty.” What do you mean by that?

In discussions about poverty and mercy, the missing link to delivering people from poverty — becoming self-sufficient in a moral way and actually able to take care of other folks — is discipleship. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” If a man is begging, what’s going to change that guy? It’s not enough to give people money and say they’re not poor anymore. Without a value system to integrate income with good behavior, they’ll only become poor again. They need a new value system with a strong spiritual foundation, so the key is discipleship.

Why is the local church the key for helping the poor?

The local church needs to be the context for discipleship. It’s God’s plan for modeling what families should really be like — multigenerational, multicultural, influence from both sexes, with a broad spectrum of education and incomes. Having come from a troubled, single-parent home, my own experience in learning what family should be like came from becoming part of a community of believers in a very caring local church. I saw how men properly treated their wives; guys in the church gave me work to do and taught me a work ethic.