The "On and Off Switch" of Compassion

A Genesis Church is one that serves as a continual presence in its community through the practice of compassion.

There are certain things in life that should be turned on and off. 

Let me name a few: a lamp, an alarm clock, a fan, a television, a cell phone, a vehicle.  All of these items come with a switch for turning it on and off.   Why do we have the option to turn it on and turn it off?  Because we only need it for certain times, in fact, having it on during times when we don’t need it can actually be harmful!

For example:

A lamp: Necessary when it’s dark out, but when the sun is out it’s hardly seen.

An alarm clock: Can you imagine an alarm clock that you couldn’t turn off! Beeping all day long! Just thinking about it might make you crazy.

A fan: Ahhh, a fan blowing in your face is AWESOME when it’s scorching outside, however a fan blowing in your face when it’s cold and rainy outside is cruel and unusual punishment.

A television: Thank goodness we can turn off the TV! Am I right?

A cell phone: We probably need to do a better job at turning off our cell phones, but at least we know there is a way to do it.  If we ever decide to do it. J

A vehicle: Can you imagine the amount of pollution in the air and money that it would take to keep a vehicle running all day?  

Turning things on and off is convenient and even necessary; however, I think that we have turned one of the most amazing characteristics of Jesus into a characteristic that the Church can “turn on and off when convenient.” Compassion.

The second characteristic of a Genesis church is one that serves as a continual presence in its community through the practice of compassion.   Continual presence means that our compassion is not turned on and off – it’s simply a part of who we are.

When Jesus was on earth, he showed us what being a continual presence of compassion in the community looked like.  In fact, doing a word study on “compassion”, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was one word in particular that was exclusively used for the type of compassion that Jesus practiced – in Greek, it’s the word splanchnizomai.  This form of the word shows up 8 times in the 4 gospels, which, of course, are the books of the Bible that tell us the story of Jesus’ life.  Jesus’ life shows us how God’s characteristics are lived out in the flesh. 

Just using Matthew as our context, do you see what I see in these verses?

·      When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them… (Mt. 9:36)

·      …[Jesus] saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them…(Mt. 14:14)

·      …and [Jesus] said, “I have compassion for this crowd, because they have been with me now for three days… (Mt. 15:32)

·      Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes… (Mt. 20:34)

He saw them, he was with them, he touched them. Jesus lived his life, surrounded by people that needed his compassion.

Compassion is typically displayed through acts of kindness and consideration towards those in any kind of difficulty or crisis.[1] And that’s how we know Jesus was compassionate, because he healed the sick, fed the hungry and set captives free through teaching the good news of the Kingdom of God.  

Compassion without action isn’t compassion at all.  And when a congregation isn’t moved to acts of kindness, they are essentially turning compassion “off”.  How does a congregation turn off compassion? When we pigeonhole it into a program or when compassion becomes a responsibility on our checklist of good Christianity.

I’m going to go out on a limb here (don’t worry, it’s pretty strong and safe) and say that most of Jesus’ contact with people was outside of the synagogue. He encountered them in their community.  To be a compassionate church, a congregation must be CONSISTENTLY IN ITS COMMUNITY.  To be able to see people the way that God sees them, we must be in daily contact with people that need Jesus’ kindness and consideration. 


I can hear you now – “DAILY contact?  That’s a lot to ask!” 


Yep, but that is when the congregation becomes a continual presence in its community.   I have a deep desire to hear the people in my community say, “I’m so glad that the Church of the Nazarene has a congregation in my neighborhood.  We are better because of them.”

So let’s just do away with entertaining the idea that compassion can be checked off our list every month, and get to work at being a continual presence.  Get to know your community in order to get involved in your community.  Find out the needs of your neighbors in order to meet the needs of your neighbors.   Be Jesus to people that need Jesus.


A Genesis Church is one that serves as a continual presence in its community through the practice of compassion.


-Emily Armstrong, missionary in the Church of the Nazarene



[1] Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.