We have a moral responsibility to engage the largest humanitarian crisis in history
The AIDS pandemic remains today as the largest humanitarian crisis in history, and the church has a moral responsibility to become engaged. Every church, whether large and affluent or small with little in the way of financial resources, can make a significant impact in its community. Here are five practical steps to launch an HIV/AIDS ministry, based on the acrostic START.
Seek support from the pastors, elders or deacons of your church. Church leadership must understand why it is important to begin this ministry. Without their support, the ministry probably won’t succeed. Inform the leadership team about the number of people infected and affected—locally and globally—and about the reasons the church is best positioned to care for people who are HIV-positive. Write a purpose statement that clearly explains the aim of this ministry and how it fits within the scope of the church’s overall vision.
Talk about scriptural foundations for this with the congregation. Human emotion is insufficient as a rationale for beginning an HIV/AIDS ministry. It must rest on a scriptural foundation.
Review Bible verses that reveal God’s compassion for the sick. Study Jesus’ ministry while He was here, and emphasize that He spent one-third of His time healing sick people. Obviously Jesus cared about physical needs as well as spiritual ones. Examine the New Testament writers’ instructions to the church to care for orphans, widows and those in need.
Assemble volunteers to increase HIV awareness, knowledge and skill. Most people know very little about HIV/AIDS, and one powerful way volunteers can impact their congregation is to regularly distribute accurate information. Encourage HIV-positive people to share their stories, first in safety among these volunteers, then with the entire congregation. Dream together as a team about the ways this ministry can impact the church, the local community and the world.
Research the needs in your area and determine how to respond. Meet with the existing agencies in your community that serve people living with HIV/AIDS, and explore how a church ministry can augment their efforts. Explain how the ministry of local churches can increase the effectiveness of their programs by providing a spiritual home for hurting people.
It’s not necessary to agree on everything to be able to work together to end AIDS. Look for common ground and then become a vital part of the community’s AIDS response.
Take action that is both practical and strategic. Begin an HIV support group for those infected and affected in the church or local community. Add care teams as soon as possible so that church members can take an active role in ministering to people living with the virus.
The most important part of taking action is to implement the C.H.U.R.C.H. strategy (this acronym stands for six ways every church can make a lasting difference in the lives of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS):
Care for and support the sick, Handle HIV testing, Unleash volunteers, Remove the stigma, Champion healthy behavior, and Help with HIV treatment support.
Caring for people with HIV/AIDS is an integral ministry for every church. Starting a ministry isn’t difficult. It just requires commitment from the church leadership; a strong scriptural understanding of God’s compassion for the sick; a group of enthusiastic, trained volunteers; up-to-date information; and a willingness to put feet to our faith through concrete action. Start today!
Kay Warren is co-founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., with her husband, Rick, and founder of the HIV & AIDS Initiative at Saddleback. She is a Bible teacher, author and international speaker who frequently travels the globe to encourage HIV-positive men, women and vulnerable children. Her latest book is Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough (Revell), and she is co-author of Foundations, a systematic theology course used in churches worldwide. Visit her online at kaywarren.com and at Twitter, @KayWarren1.