T he two great commandments that Jesus identifies are to love God and to love neighbor (Matthew 22:36–40). Would it not make sense to see that love for neighbor includes our concern for their spiritual, relational, and physical needs? All human needs may be used by the Spirit as a point of connection for the gospel in the lives of people. Ministering to the whole person involves care for all areas of life that affect a person’s ability to experience the full life God intends for them. In the same way, taking a holistic approach to ministry should influence every area of your church.
Ministering to the whole person in worship
Worship is a typical church’s most significant tool for communicating with members. So evaluating worship from a holistic perspective is critical. In most settings, a worship service includes praise, preaching, prayer, testimony, and offering. Sermons, songs, testimony, and announcements that celebrate and encourage holistic ministry are key to all God’s people getting involved in worship and believing that it is an essential part of the church’s mission. Worship must be owned by everyone, not just a small group of active members.
Like all church activities, holistic ministry needs to be undergirded and shaped by prayer. Prayer for specific individuals (with respect for privacy) and specific social concerns shapes the heart of the congregation. Consider having a means for people who need help to contact someone privately when they are facing a need crisis (gas being shut off, insufficient food for the week, etc.) in order to get the help needed.
Clearly designated offerings are also an important way to demonstrate the church’s concern for all areas of life; offerings show that we put our money towards what is important to us.
A holistic approach to discipleship
How church members grow in their faith through discipleship is also a key part of churches. Most think of discipleship as small groups and Bible study. But discipleship doesn’t just happen through study and reflection. Expanding what it means to be a “fully devoted follower of Jesus” to include service and justice activities fosters a more holistic faith that shapes every facet of life.
Include holistic ministry in children’s education and youth ministries to shape faith early in life and create compassion and a passion for justice. Devotions during a mission trip are some of the most spiritually powerful times of reflection and growth.
Fellowship that lets people bring their whole selves
Planning community events that are inclusive and comfortable for those in need is a great way to share the gospel. Faith often grows through relationships, through sharing life and connecting with others. Helping someone feel truly at home and accepted in a church setting is one of the greatest gifts the church has for the world. True fellowship builds deep respect, deep respect builds deep relationships, and deep relationships will bring a higher level of trust.
A holistic approach to mission
Through mission, we embody the gospel in both word and deed. This makes the love of Jesus real in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we connect. Identify the places where you can make an evangelistic connection (church visitors, Alpha program, etc.) and ask where you might care for other needs a person or family might have to make a more holistic impact. If we identify the places where we touch people’s lives by meeting social needs (food pantry, a request for financial assistance, etc.) and then ask how we might connect them with Jesus, we can truly help them find life to the fullest.
Word of caution: Don’t help people just so they’ll join your church
Helping someone in need is important in itself and is not simply a way to get someone to believe in Jesus. We do not want to witness in a way that is coercive or manipulative. Tying our help to church attendance, professing faith, or joining the church is not a healthy way to bring them into relationship with God.
Whether you are sponsoring a refugee family, helping a family or individual with bills and to live within a budget, providing a home for at-risk teens, or organizing a community to work together, it’s important to let people know that you are truly concerned with their welfare and the presenting issue. If the real desired outcome of helping someone in need is having them join the church, then our helping efforts will be compromised.
At the same time, you do not need to ignore opportunities to share your faith when you have established a relationship and shown genuine care. The Great Commission gives us the responsibility to make disciples, baptize, and teach (Matthew 28:16–20). Even when our primary function is helping, we still believe that connecting people to Jesus is essential to living life to the fullest and that deed ministry is enhanced and supported when people have joined the walk.
Sharing the gospel in ministries focused on deeds
There is not a single prescription for how to integrate the gospel in ministries focused on service, justice, and compassion. But here are some things to consider as you design holistic ministry in your church:
- Are there strings attached to the service we provide? Is there a threat of withholding our help if the people do not join our church or give their lives to Christ?
- Do we truly care for the wellbeing of those we are helping, or are we simply going through the motions?
- Are we looking at those in need with a judgmental, paternalistic perspective?
- Are we just processing a need rather than establishing a relationship of love and concern for the other?
- Once we have established a relationship, can we look for opportunities to share our faith and invite them into a relationship with Jesus and the Christian community?
One area of deeds ministry that creates a unique challenge is church or ministry involvement in activities that are supported or permitted by government or non-sectarian organizations.
Several examples commonly faced by churches are tutoring programs in public schools or resettling refugees. In the first example, the school will usually agree to the program if the volunteers agree not to evangelize on site. What we might want to consider is that when we build the broader relationship outside of the school setting and include the student’s family, is it appropriate to share our faith and invite them into church activities? In the second example, a church that sponsors a refugee family is required to sign a six-month agreement in which it agrees not to proselytize. While not breaking our word, we can invite them into fellowship activities and encourage the development of relationships so that when the six months are over, it is natural for us to share our faith with them and invite them into the community of believers.
Why ministering to the whole person matters
The power of the good news is strongest when people experience the full life that God desires for them. This rich existence can be found through connection to Jesus Christ and his disciples. When the Christian community, through both churches and ministries, addresses the whole person, the impact can be dramatic.
Questions to ponder
- Take some time to evaluate your ministry’s worship, discipleship, fellowship, and mission. In what ways is your ministry strong? In what ways could it be improved? Be specific.
- Consider a few of the ways you and your ministry participate in holistic ministry in deeds. Answer the five questions in the bulleted section to evaluate whether those areas are designed holistically.