Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mission and Ministry... Is Our Approach Balanced?

You were walking through the furniture mart looking for the perfect stool. In the distance you saw one that would look great with your décor. It was the right color, the exact height you needed, and, because it was one of those do it yourself gizmos, even the price was right.

So you took the box to the cashier, paid your $39.99 and put it in the car for the drive home.

After lunch you went to work putting it together. And that’s when it hit you. No matter what you did, that stool wobbled. Because the three legs on that new stool you had just purchased were not of equal length.

This is the same problem that faces many internationally missions minded people in the field today. We are trying to make our ministry stools sit level, but the legs which support our ministry are uneven.

While in today’s world we would just return that stool and get a new one, in ministry, we need to figure out a way to make things work.

Let me explain where I am coming from.

I believe our missionary work needs to be multifaceted and balanced. Like our stool, it must have three legs that are equal, or it will not function properly.

It has become my firm conviction that as much as possible, our ministry needs to take into account not only the spiritual health of people, but their physical and economic health as well.

These are the three legs upon which our ministry stool must stand and be balanced.

It is this type of holistic ministry, that I believe holds the most promise for seeing radical transformation of peoples lives and real, faithful, sustained reconciliation with God.

Unfortunately, the church, and by extension, her missionary outreach, has been guilty of putting too much emphasis on the God leg of our stool, to the detriment of a balanced lifestyle rooted holistically in Christ.

Now, I am not arguing that we need less emphasis on the spiritual health of people with whom we have contact. I am arguing that instead of cutting that leg of our stool to match the others, we need to spend some time developing the other two legs.

We need to improve our mission and ministry so that we are able to see transformation in people's physical and economic lives, as well as, their spiritual lives.

Unfortunately, far too often this style of ministry, of seeing all areas of life as interconnected and needing God’s healing touch, is not seen as valid by many in the church today.

I serve with a pastor in Oaxaca, Mexico who had a girl die in his arms of malnutrition. When he asked his pastor friends why this happened, he was told that the work of caring for the poor was not the work of the church. We are to “Preach the Gospel. Besides, the girl was in heaven, a better place.”

I wish I could say that was an isolated response. But it is not. Today the response of many in the evangelical church is to dismiss the types of ministry and mission work that also put an emphasis on physical and economic healing in addition to spiritual healing as somehow not related to the Gospel of Christ.

We see all through the Gospel accounts that Jesus healed, and that he empowered the disciples to do so, also. We see in Acts that the early church felt it was part of their ministry to care for the poor in their communities. We also see in the prophetic call of the Old Testament that God expected His people to work and stand for economic justice.

Yet somehow, many in today’s evangelical church have decided that work on those legs of our stool is not part of our mission or ministry calling.

By neglecting these two vital parts of an effective holistic ministry model, we are effectively telling millions of people around the world that the Kingdom has not arrived for them today.

Unless and until we figure out a way to practically integrate all three areas of health, the spiritual, the economic, and the physical when we are working with people, our ministry stool will forever be like that wobbly one I mentioned earlier.

A wobbly stool is not very useful and unable to really support the fully transformed lives God desires for His people today.

1 comment:

Z said...

I totally agree with you here, though you know I argue that Americans must also get the help so many are giving to foreigners in foreign countries.
Putting that aside, I certainly applaud anybody putting their money where their mouth is, doing hard work to help others while sharing the Gospel. What's the down side of that?
"Where is the Love?" we need to ask; and love is helping that malnourished child before she dies in any pastor's arms.
I must admit that the mission work I hear about or see my nieces and nephews embark on (though one works full time in downtown L.A., others (and she) have helped in Mexico quite a bit) always includes building homes, fixing things, bringing canned foods, etc., so I'd have to say most of the work I see does encompass God and Charity. A good thing.
And, of course, I'd never force any redistribution; as the Bible reminds us, it's our hearts that tell us what to give.