Jesus loved, touched, and cared for the people of his day who were isolated and hurting. In our day, people who are living with HIV/AIDS often hide their condition even from family out of fear or shame. The love of Christ compels us to reach out and care for people who are suffering alone.
Consider this: 40 million women, children, and men worldwide have HIV/AIDS with more than 1 million in the United States! That means, statistically, someone in your church has HIV/AIDS. They may not even know it. And more than 50 percent of people with HIV/AIDS are women and children.
Im convinced the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the Churchs greatest opportunity to visibly demonstrate Gods love to skeptics. Its also an incredible opportunity to grow in Christ-like character, to share the Good News with the hurting, and to extend your churchs witness into your community and around the world.
Most people expect the government, not the Church, to take care of people living with HIV/AIDS. But Jesus, speaking to his church, said, I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (Matt. 25:40 HCS)
For years, I never felt any personal calling to get involved with this issue. Like you, I was busy as a pastor to a congregation. But then I had a conversation that changed the direction of my life. Have you ever had one of those conversations?
It was a couple of years ago, when my wife, Kay, picked up a TIME magazine that reported, 12 million orphaned in Africa because of AIDS. We now know that number has risen to more than 15 million!
The Holy Spirit used that magazine article to grab Kays heart, shaking her world and turning it upside down.
But as I heard Kay talk about this worldwide plague, I realized how little I knew about AIDS, how almost everything I knew about it was wrong, and how this crisis could be the greatest opportunity for the Church to be the Church in both our own community and around the world. Soon, God grabbed my heart too.
It started me thinking about the stewardship of influence. Its the belief that God doesnt give you influence for your own ego or fame or your benefit; he gives us influence for the benefit of others.
For instance, when Solomon wrote the prayer in Psalm 72, he was the most influential man of his day: He was a powerful king; he was the wealthiest man alive; and the Bible tells us he was also the wisest man who ever lived.
In his prayer, Solomon says, (Im paraphrasing), God, you have blessed me with both affluence and influence, and I ask you to increase that even more but not for my own benefit!
Here's why I want you to bless me with greater influence: So that I can save the children of the needy, rescue those who are hurt from oppression and violence, deliver the needy who cry out, take pity on the weak, and help the afflicted who have no one to help them. I will save the needy from death, for precious is their blood in your sight. Yes, I will defend the afflicted among the people.
If you apply that prayer to this day and age, the afflicted who have no one to help them are the people around the world who are dying of HIV/AIDS!
As Christian leaders, were called to speak up for those who have no influence the needy, the oppressed, the prisoner, the orphan, and the widow. The Bible tells us we must care; it's simply not an option. And I think that means we must do something about HIV/AIDS here in the United States and also the pandemic that now rages across Africa.
You may be thinking, But what can my local congregation do? By Gods grace, you and your members can do a lot more than you think. Im convinced the local church is the only organization that can address and possibly eradicate this horrendous disease.
Here are six ways your congregation can minister to those with HIV/AIDS:
Care for and comfort the sick
Churches are commanded to care. Its our calling, and the love of Christ leaves us no choice! Congregations like yours are the only organization of caring that can be found in almost every community around the world. Your members can offer physical and emotional support to those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Handle testing and counseling
Churches are the most trusted organizations in communities, so people may be more willing to be tested and counseled there just being tested for HIV/AIDS has proven to promote healthier behavior. Your members can be trained to give medical, emotional, and family counsel to those receiving results from their testing.
Unleash a volunteer labor force
Churches have the largest volunteer labor force on the planet more than 2 billion members. What if half of those volunteers could be mobilized? There arent enough professionals in the world to teach prevention, administer treatment, and offer care to those who need it. There is an enormous pool of untapped talent and energy sitting unused in many churches, just waiting to be mobilized.
Remove the stigma
Churches must embrace those infected. Your congregation can replace rejection with mercy. We must remove abuse and alienation, and then offer faith, hope, love, forgiveness, and grace the kind of spiritual support which neither business nor government can offer.
Champion healthy lifestyles
HIV/AIDS is complex, yet it is preventable. Churches have the moral credibility to challenge high-risk lifestyles and to offer moral imperatives for the family. We have years of experience at teaching the moral motivation for abstinence and faithfulness. We can teach that faithfulness requires faith.
Help with nutrition and medications
The Church has the largest distribution network on the planet! Congregations are already in place worldwide. Millions of villages have a church, but nothing else. For treatment to become universal, we must develop a church-supported treatment model. Organizations come and go, but churches are permanent community fixtures. Your members can be trained to distribute and support HIV/AIDS medications and support essential nutrition. The church can offer pre-treatment preparation, treatment education, adherence support, direct observation therapy (DOT), and treatment coaching to the entire family.
My prayer is that you will use your influence to help those with no influence. For such a time as this, God has placed you in leadership and you can move forward in faith, knowing God is preparing your path.
Learn how your church can begin an HIV/AIDS ministry at www.purposedriven.com/HIV. On this site you can also find information about the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church, Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.