As followers of Jesus, our obligation is obedience to everything Jesus commanded. That means that we do not choose which command is most important (evangelism or social action), but we find ways to do both. For the sake of the discussion that follows, I will define integration as “obedience to everything Jesus commanded”, and specialization as “choosing which commands to obey”.
Integration in Christian ministry is fundamentally a mindset that is born out of a Biblical and wholistic worldview rather than a dualistic one. Integrated ministries are built on personal conviction that resists both internal and external pressures toward specialization.
When I arrived on the mission field in 1986, a senior colleague approached me with a word of advice: “If you feed someone today, they will be hungry again tomorrow. If you save their soul today, they will be saved forever.” That phrase summarized my colleagues’ philosophy of ministry and theology of mission. Our task was to save souls and plant churches, not to care for the physical needs of people. This is an example of what I will call external pressure toward specialization. Another good example of external pressure toward specialization is the reality that in a hostile environment it is easy to do acts of compassion, but harder to evangelize.
There are internal pressures as well. I might find it difficult or intimidating to talk with others about their need to repent of sin and put their trust in Christ. It might be easier for me to do good works, and wait for people to ask me how they can be saved. That is an example of internal pressure toward specialization.
Complete obedience to everything Jesus commanded requires resistance to both external and internal pressure toward specialization. It is rooted in convictions about what I must do, not just what I am gifted or trained to do.
I can teach what I know, but I reproduce what I am. If we want integrated ministries, then we must be integrated people. Integration begins with me. I must develop convictions that resist pressures toward specialization, and be willing myself to work outside of my comfort zone. If I am a community developer, I must evangelize. If I am an evangelist, I must involve myself with community development.
What are the implications of these ideas for those who are developing a program of training and equipping for wholistic ministry? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Training must be rooted in God’s Word and should focus on integration in the life and ministry of the individual.
2. Training should challenge assumptions of a dualistic worldview, and promote a mindset of ministry to the whole person and community. Individuals must be trained as generalists, not specialists.
3. Training must offer tools that are simple and transferable, enabling the individual to respond personally to the whole need of individuals and communities whether spiritual, physical, social, intellectual, or economic.