Holistic Ministry

Remember Micah 6:8? “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” With that in mind, we now look at how the perspective of this verse shapes our ministry as either a church or a Christian organization. We often assume that God expects us to be concerned about connecting people with Jesus as well as meeting their physical needs. However, in Scripture, we do not see one as primary, but instead, we are given a call to engage in both. In the Old Testament, we see Israel’s relationship with God being evaluated in terms of their worship and obedience, how they treated those in need, and how they practiced justice. In the New Testament, where God’s mission is entrusted to the disciples of Jesus, we hear a consistent message of bringing the word and doing the deed. The two great commandments that Jesus identifies are to love God and to love the 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?

As we look at the practical side of holistic ministry, we also need to identify how broadly it can be defined. Up to this point, we have referred to it as combining word and deed ministry. It would seem that a broad definition of deed would include our care for all areas of life that affect a person’s ability to achieve the fullness God intends for all people—marriage and family issues, physical and psychological health, meaningful work, good community within the church and neighborhood, access to adequate food, education, income, and housing. This is not to say that every church or organization has to address all of these issues, but the issues are part of kingdom concerns and affect all those created in the image of God.

Holistic ministry in the local congregation

Our next step is to identify how a church’s holistic ministry potential might be realized by noting the primary activities a church engages in based on a typical church budget and human resource investment (both volunteer and staff). Although there are some variations in specific congregations, we believe these classifications of a church’s priorities are generally true for most churches.

Worship. There is little doubt that worship is a primary activity for God’s people. In most settings, a worship service includes praise, preaching, prayer, testimony, and offering. Evaluating these areas for their holistic perspective is critical as this gathered time is the primary communication tool for church members. Sermons, songs, testimonies, and announcements that celebrate and encourage holistic ministry are key to all God’s people getting involved and believing that it is an essential part of the church’s mission. This must be owned by everyone, not just a small group of social activists. Like all church activities, holistic ministry needs to be undergirded and shaped by prayer.

Prayer for specific individuals (with concern for privacy) and specific social concerns calls for God to act and shapes the heart of the congregation. Clearly designated offerings that demonstrate the church’s concern for all of life show we put our money where our mouth is. As we wrote this booklet, we wondered if a church could do a “help call.” That could be having a way for people needing 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.

Discipleship. How church members grow in their faith through discipleship is also a key area of church functioning. Most think of discipleship as small groups and Bible study. Expanding what discipleship means to include service and justice activities to help those in need is what holistic ministry is all about. Including holistic ministry in children’s education and youth ministries helps to shape faith early in life and creates compassion and a passion for justice. Devotions during a mission trip are some of the most powerful times reflecting on faith.

Fellowship. Planning community events that are inclusive and comfortable for those in need is a great way to share the gospel by developing relationships that share life and connections. Helping someone feel truly at home and accepted in a church setting is one of the greatest gifts the church has for members of its community. True fellowship builds deep respect, deep respect builds deep relationships, and deep relationships will bring a higher level of trust.

Mission. If we define our mission as bringing the holistic gospel in word and deed, we will go a long way toward creating synergy that makes the love of Jesus concrete in the lives of seekers. If we identify the places where we make an evangelistic connection (church visitors, Alpha program, etc.) and ask where we might care for other needs the person or family might have, we can make a 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 are truly helping them find life to the fullest.

Holistic ministry in deed activities

For deacons and those who work in Christian social services primarily focused on community and individual needs, we recommend some specific equipping for how to appropriately share faith and invite people to join a walk with God. Please note that 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 people into relationship with God.

We must begin with the commitment that what we are doing to help someone in need is important in itself and is not simply a way to get someone to believe in Jesus. Whether we are sponsoring a refugee family, helping a family or individual with bills or a budget, providing a home for at-risk teens, or organizing a community to work together, those who are serving and doing justice need to let these people know that they 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, we do not need to ignore opportunities to share our faith when we 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.

Holistic ministry is an art rather than a science, which means that there is not a single prescription for how we bring word and deed together. Here are some of the considerations that might be included in designing holistic ministry from the deed perspective:

  • 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 people 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 and extend an invitation into the community of believers.

The synergy of holistic ministry

The power of the good news is strongest when people experience the full life that God desires for their entire existence. We believe that 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 of one’s existence, the effect on individuals and families is dramatic. A life where worship, discipleship, and fellowship intersect with life, meaningful vocation, healthy family, and good character is a rich life indeed. While this is not possible to do for everyone we come into contact with, we can do a better job of changing lives and our Father’s world when we engage in holistic ministry that touches all areas of life.

Points to Ponder

1

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.
2

Consider a few of the ways you and your ministry participate in holistic ministry in deeds. Answer the five questions in the text to evaluate whether those areas are designed holistically.
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Developmental Ministry